Interview With Nona Faustine

Tell me about the title of your show.

The title Reconstructions comes from the Reconstruction Era a period in our country after the civil war that focused on the transformation of the Southern States. It was a significant chapter in the history of civil rights in the US, so the title lends itself to that term, and ideas that are reflected in the work. In many ways it is a snapshot of my life. On one level I am doing my own reconstructing by interpreting if you will events and ideas around slavery, and history. I’m putting myself in places of New York City’s colonial past. Events that we still have to contend with, so there are many reconstructions going on. On the other side I am playing with the family album recreating what that means for my daughter and I.

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Can you talk a bit about any external influences on you and your work in this exhibit?

I have so many. I’ve always been drawn and curious about history, folklore and storytelling. I think the single biggest influence that has stayed with me since I was an undergraduate at SVA is the discovery of the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan, and the history of New York City. I am referencing a place, and a people in this instance African slaves, which all traces of that past had pretty much vanished and were  hidden until 1991 from being recognized in this city. They were the catalyst and foundation for making it the capital of the world.

 

How long have the themes in this show been developing in your work, and how have they changed over time?

I have been thinking about them for a while. I began to develop them at the end of my first year in the program. They really began to take shape over the summer of 2012. The first set of images came out of reflection and healing. I had this strong desire to express my sorrow, but I was also feeling this exhilarating power within me. I was coming into my own as a woman, mother, and artist. Then the second half the cityscapes as I call them sought to engage with the environment in a defiant manner, to challenge my fears and push the work in a more dynamic way to risk something. Rounding out the narrative I brought my family images into the work to give it a complex, multi-dimensional layer.

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Your work is intensely personal, dealing with your family, your heritage, and your body in a direct and exposing way. How did you find working with your family throughout the creation of this body of work, and how did they find working with you?

It was a challenge as anyone who photographs or works with his or her family will tell you. My sister is my Photo Assistant and came with me on every shoot. It was a pull and push sought of relationship, but she also kept me calm and balanced. She looked out for me, and gave me the confidence I needed. I would say at times it wasn’t easy for her because I can be high-strung and hyper. Going to these high security places in the city produced a certain level of anxiety for both of us. I have been photographing my daughter since she was in the womb, and she’s comfortable in front of the camera, however I pushed her a bit on the portraits not in directing her, but in the time it takes to get what I wanted and that can be difficult for a 4 year old. My mother was a little intimidating. I got the feeling that she really didn’t want to be photographed, especially in the real natural way that I captured her. She is a selfless mother who would do anything for her kids so she agreed. It really comes across as this stern, confidence and the power that she possesses. I loved photographing her, at 70 years old she is beautiful.

 

Can you tell me a bit about what you’d hope us to get both from this interview and by attending your show?

That is a funny question, what does anyone want really?

I think we all have this innate, inherent instinct to share who we are, and how we see the world, our opinion, and what matters to each of us. From the first drawings by cavemen, a hand dipped in vegetable dye and pressed onto the cave wall. I too have a desire to see my chocolate body reflected in the world, to contribute to the conversation.  You may not like what you see or care but you will never forget it.

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How was the design and hanging process for you? What did you find most challenging, most exhilarating? Do you feel the process of getting your show physically together and up on the wall changed the work in any way?

After installing my own show I have an immense amount of respect for installers. It is grueling, you have to be precise and time is not your friend. Planning is everything. I actually injured the joints around my knees in the process. However the process of installing didn’t really change my work. I made small changes in the materials I used, but those issues were minor for me. The most exhilarating is seeing it all hung, the packaging of your ideas. I loved hearing the sounds from the video I did of my daughter reverberate throughout the space, that was really sweet. Even when I wasn’t watching or near the monitors she was present in the space. To hear the sound of her voice and her physically breaking the branch under the Magnolia tree in “Persephone”.

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What advice do you have to give the next year(s) of MFA students when it comes to installing their work?

Plan, plan, and plan some more. Story boarding is the best option, along with talking or having help from people who have experience in installing. It makes such a big difference. Be prepared to give up something’s, go with your gut. You may want to crowd that space with everything you love, but there is always one important message you want to convey and if it means taking some things out of that gallery, and moving it over to the other room so those pieces do what you want, and focuses our attention then do that. Rather than saying I don’t care, it’s my last hurrah, or it’s my first show, I’ll get it right the next time. Lastly, don’t be afraid to experiment.

 

With school coming to a close, what’s next for you? 

I will be working on a book based on this body of work. Going forward with all the aspirations of any driven artists. Raising my beautiful daughter, forming my practice and never forgetting the lessons I learned here at ICP.

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