By NOAH BECKER, Septtember, 2018
Noah Becker: Where were you born and raised?
Nadja Sayej: Two places! I was born in Mississauga, a city which is rivalling as the tasteless cultural wasteland, also known as a suburb of Toronto in (gasp) Canada. But as a child, I lived for years in Victoria, B.C,. and then moved back to the ‘Sauga for high school. So, I was raised bicoastally. The best part: Driving through the monotonous prairies.
Becker: The first time I heard about you was from watching your ArtStars* TV show on YouTube. You're a widely published writer for international magazines and newspapers like VICE, The Guardian and more. Along the way, you met a lot of famous people and now we have books about your adventures. What do you like about interviewing all these celebrities?
Sayej: I love interviewing celebrities, it all started with my web-TV show ArtStars* because I was chasing around unknown people, then semi-famous people, then pretty famous people and then talking to stars like Salma Hayek and Lady Gaga. That was literally last month, and it’s taken me about 10 years to get to this point. What I love about interviewing celebrities is that they’re completely normal people, once you get beyond the stardust. Not only that, they’re so eager to talk to someone who isn’t freaked out about their fame, and to talk about their work in a thoughtful way that reveals new answers they never even thought about. While each interview is squarely focused on a new book, film or exhibit, I love the conversational aspect and follow-up questions that lead the interview in a totally different direction. You can’t do that with email interviews!
Becker: The articles you write have comedic moments. I know you do stand up comedy and you're also a rapper and singer songwriter. Am I missing something about you?
Sayej: I write books! But also, I took all the photos that are in Biennale Bitch! Basically, I’m a writer who takes pictures. I got my first Nikon camera in 2012, which was loaned to me by a friend, Christo Mitov, and I started shooting celebrities shortly after. The book features intimate shots I’ve taken of Cate Blanchett, Salma, Gaga, Thom Yorke, A$AP Rocky, Claude Picasso and the Wu-Tang Clan. I have a growing collection of celebrity photos I’ve taken over the past 5 years.
Becker: You're a very sexual persona - a flamboyant persona. But you also have different laid back aspects to you. You're intelligent enough that I feel like everything might be deliberate. Is it specific for you or do you feel like an out of control rock star?
Sayej: I wish my life was more like Courtney Love, let’s be honest. But no, I try not to be too self-conscious about what I project about myself, I’m not Marilyn Monroe or Amber Rose. I’m me and I’m more than a one-dimensional persona. Every person is a constantly changing palette. I feel like the older you get, the more comfortable you are in your skin. One day, I’m Playboy, the next I’m Country Living. And the next? I’m Webster’s Dictionary.
Becker: What's your favorite part of the book?
Sayej: There are so many funny stories in this book, it’s a great toilet read. I can’t choose one, so just a few I love are calling the comedian Patton Oswalt from a hotel in Marrakech, then partying with the Princess of Libya, or even meeting the Queen of Norway, who was sort of surprised by H.R. Giger’s art on at the Nordic Biennale. I also snuck backstage at a Wu-Tang concert and got to hang out with the rappers, but I also love the story about meeting David Hasselhoff, who was so easy to talk to. Or what about that time I did vodka shots in Moscow with Anish Kapoor? Or when I met the former president of Slovakia at a fashion show? What takes the cake is that time when I took a selfie with Jane Newton, Helmut Newton’s widow, and after, she told me it was the first selfie she ever took with anyone. It was an honor!
Becker: Are the books available in stores or are you selling them online? Or maybe the books are a limited edition? Tell us how to get a copy?
Sayej: I’m selling two versions of the book, the ebook version and the print version. The Biennale Bitch print book is with Blurb publishing and the ebook is with ArtStars* Books, but both may soon be available with Barnes & Noble NOOK, so check in on my website, where I’ll post an update!
Becker: Do you regret any of the wild things you've done in your public life?
Sayej: Nah, carpe diem. In fact, I regret not doing more! I regret not going even more over-the-top because as John Waters told me yesterday, you have to be outrageous to make a bold statement. So many people are afraid of criticism but fear builds things up to be much worse than they actually are. You gotta take risks. Who cares what people think? Waters said you know you’re making art when you piss off the cool kids. And he’s so right!
Becker: For many years I've followed you doing what most people call "starfucking," I feel it's a negative term. What do you say to people who call you a starfucker?
Sayej: You hang up the phone! Kidding. But I do have a candid memory: In 2014, I received a call from a popular Berlin gallerist, who shall remain unnamed. They asked me to drop by the gallery and interview one of their artists. But they just weren’t famous enough, so I declined. “You’re a starfucker, aren’t you?” taunted the gallerist. I didn’t know what to say, so I hung up on her! But I am thankful for that moment, as it put me on my path to more entertainment-driven celebrity journalism. Looking back now, I’m flattered. And it makes a great story. But I’ll always be an art critic, deep down.
Becker: I feel like Warhol (and that's an obvious comparison) did a lot of the same things you are doing. Is Warhol an inspiration or is there a different agenda at work with you?
Sayej: That’s so funny because if anyone reminds me of Andy Warhol, it’s you! No, I’ve never been inspired by Andy Warhol. Not really. I’m more inspired by paparazzi photographers like Ron Galella, or the founder of Gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, who not only brought the writer into the narrative of the story, but made journalism adventurous and fun again. I’m inspired by Helmut Newton for his iconic images which were far too edgy in the 1990s, and how he said that “A fashion photograph should look like anything but a fashion photograph.” That was rebellious. I’m also inspired by Richard Pryor because he used personal tragedy as a way to become friends with his audience and let them into his life. I’ve dedicated this book to Joan Rivers for sharing her struggles in her book “Enter Talking,” as I learned what made her a household name in comedy - not to mention the first woman to host late night - is her insane drive, a relentless self-belief and a constant (very New York) hustle. Also, her daughter Melissa Rivers is super nice, I’ve had the lucky chance to interview her.
Becker: For those who have not read the book, how was the food at the Venice Biennale?
Sayej: I mean, I’m a vegetarian so I’m probably a bit more boring than carnivores, but I have to say the Venice Biennale of art features exquisite cuisine, as far as hors d'oeuvres go. The Venezuela Pavilion hands down has the best fruit kebabs. And their spiked banana and peach punch is unbeatable. But if you’re into Middle Eastern cuisine, you need to RSVP to the Iranian Pavilion because they feature a three-course meal! Always remember this: The French don’t serve baguettes, the Italian pavilion party is ulta-private and the Canadians serve the kind of stuff you’d find at Costco. Oh, and Iceland serves juice boxes, but hey, you might need one to go...WM
Noah Becker shows his art internationally. A visual artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine, Becker has also written freelance articles for The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post and contributed texts to major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker also directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010) viewable on Youtube.
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