Fellowship Spotlight
December 15, 2021

Fellowship Spotlight

Costume Designer Asa Benally

Asa Benally is a 2021 Cultural Capital fellow and he was raised on the Navajo Reservation in northern Arizona.

His grandmother, a traditional weaver, and his father, a silversmith, fostered his love for design. Benally studied at the Parsons School of Design in New York City, and in 2016, he received a Master of Fine Arts degree in costume design at Yale University. Benally lives and works in New York City.

“I have been a costume designer for twenty years,” says Asa Benally (Navajo/Cherokee), who studied fashion design during his undergraduate studies. “I create different worlds for the stage,” in which Benally compares costume designing to storytelling. “My process starts with sketching and painting the designs and then taking those ideas and making them a reality.”

During his Cultural Capital fellowship, Benally learned more about Indigenous fashion. “I wanted to explore aspects of native art and design,” says Benally.

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1. Asa Benally. 2021 Cultural Capital fellow. Image provided by the artist. 2. Costumes designed by Asa Benally. Image provided by the artist. 3. Devilfish, a play directed by Leslie Ishii and costumes designed by Asa Benally. Image provided by the artist.

But his research wasn’t easy. “The pandemic certainly made things challenging,” says Benally. “I was cut off from so many resources.” Still, he discovered new pathways to learn. “I’ve become more savvy in how to present and research digitally. I realized that the digital connection can be imperative in knowledge sharing.”

“I’ve become more savvy in how to present and research digitally. I realized that the digital connection can be imperative in knowledge sharing.”

What inspires Benally’s designing process is what he learned while growing up on the Navajo reservation. “I learned to be an innovative and problem-solving designer from my time spent on the reservation,” says Benally. “I learned to create something out of what I found around me, and I had boundless space for my imagination to fly.”

Benally has designed for theatre, musical theater, and opera, including Devilfish, a 2019 play written by Vera Starbard (Tlingit/Dena'ina) that featured an all Native cast. “I got to collaborate with Tlinqit Artists and we created an ancient Alaska [that] brought to life the legend of the creation of the Raven clan.”

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