A Collective Utterance

SalomeHCP 002

Salome, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 2015. Courtesy the artist.

A Collective Utterance
Naima Green

June 21 – August 30, 2018

Arsenal Gallery, Central Park
830 Fifth Avenue, Third Floor
New York, NY, 10029

Opening Reception: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 from 6-8pm
Artist Talk: Monday, June 25, 2018 from 6-8pm

A Collective Utterance is a solo exhibition of photographic work by the artist
Naima Green. Staged in NYC Park’s Arsenal Gallery and culled from her ongoing portrait series “Jewels from the Hinterland” (2013–present), the exhibition renders verdant alcoves and expansive greens throughout New York City, as well as select sites across the United States. With black and brown artists, writers, culture workers, and thinkers positioned centrally in each image, A Collective Utterance offers an exploration into the tender interiors of communities that populate and often buttress the creative life of a city, through the mapping of its’ outdoor spaces. 

Spanning sites such as Riverside Park, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and Central Park, Green’s photographs present quiet, quotidian portraits––nuanced compositions that revel in her subjects’ subtle gestures, varied postures, and soft gazes. Documenting a community that is tight-knit yet sprawling in scope, Green’s project deeply engages with the historical and social role of the photographic portrait as a tool deployed to communicate, classify, or reinforce particular notions of subjectivity. Yet “Jewels from the Hinterland” destabilizes such structures, with photographic portraits that are as much a product of the subject’s agency, as they are of Green’s intent to portray their complexity. Through these insistently beautiful photographs, we access a kaleidoscope of consideration of what it means to find solace, comfort, and visibility within a community often relegated to the margins. 

As Green states, “A hinterland is an area beyond a city or district; by definition, it is always beyond the visible. In many ways, these photographs create an alternative present by envisioning urban green spaces as places of tenderness, beauty, and play for people of the African diaspora. I use these photographs as a way to assert and insert our presence in these landscapes. Beauty is an entry point––it might make us stop and look but it does not hold the story in its entirety. It is the first towards intervening in predominant narratives. Beauty serves as a way to create glitches and holes in preexisting frameworks of urban decay.” A project such as “Jewels from the Hinterland” takes on a particular type of urgency within the context of this sociocultural moment of seemingly interminable crisis, where the imaging of black and brown bodies is often deployed to a particular end. Whether portrayed in a mythical manner or as the sites of structural or physical trauma, black and brown bodies are ever in a state of being performed upon. But here, they are left to be. Collectively, these images attest to the tenderness and the strength, the beauty and the intricacy, that is present if only one were to spend time, and look and listen closely.

A Collective Utterance is organized by Oluremi C. Onabanjo.

 

— Towering

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It was summer. The sun was smothering and the air dry. I exited my apartment building with my camera in tow. I wasn’t really sure what I would capture this day, but I was destined to capture something. I decided to walk southbound on Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Overwhelmed by the heat, I popped into the bodega just across the street to buy something cold and refreshing to drink. As I proceeded down the block, I approach the intersection at 132nd. To my left, I noticed a vacant lot surrounded by a fence with barbed blades running along the top. I found it peculiar that there was a fence with barbed blades which had nothing to protect. It was in stark contrast to everything that surrounded it. The lot was reminiscent of a prison yard with no prisoners, but maybe it’s to keep the prisoners out. The housing project buildings juxtapose the lot– towering.

The Adoration Of The Magi, 1612-1614

The Adoration of the Magi (1)

The Adoration of the Magi, 1612-1614
Juan Bautista Maíno

On a recent trip to Madrid, I was fortunate to have to opportunity to visit the Museo del Prado, twice. On the first occasion, time wasn’t on my side. It was just before closing and I only had 45 minutes. I spent the majority of that transfixed on Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath, 1600.

The second trip was a bit more leisurely, and I was able to move at my own pace. Weaving in and out of the galleries, I arrived at what I felt was a divine moment. Before me hung The Adoration of the Magi, 1612-1614. Just then it donned on me that I had seen absolutely few if any, representations of people of color. I was immediately drawn to the exquisite depiction of Balthasar. He appeared as if he could have been a distant relative. Seldom have I been presented with an opportunity to see and feel a likeness of myself within the context of art history. Given the period for when this painting was created, I marveled at his swarthy skin, his broad nose, and his posture. His agency is his own as he stands erect before a Child Christ. He adorned himself in the finest of silks and linens. The marvelous contrast between his earthy and rich green toga and his Moorish complexion reminded me of a recent trending topic that highlighted the complementary nature of black skin and the olive-green hue. Some things just don’t change.

The question of why so few works were on view or even to exist still puzzled me. It clearly couldn’t have been a thing of technical ability. For a national museum with a collection that spans back to the XII century in a country whose history is so inextricably intertwined with the Moors, I find the exclusion to be quite significant……

 

 

 

Transparency in Learning – Slidefest 2018

Pippa Hetherington ©-9801

Photo credit: Kaz Senju

 

Friday, May 3rd, was the annual spring showcase of in-progress work by the first-year students of the ICP-Bard MFA program. Riffing off the theme of the photographic slide, a myriad of mediums including film, digital, video and performance were shown. The audience was invited to a pop-up exhibition, a half-hour video presentation of collaborative work, a visual photo conversation between the students (over six months) displayed as a looped video, an hour of presentations about their art in development, and a table of zines, books and postcards.

Pippa Hetherington ©-0194

Photo credit: Kaz Senju

Pippa Hetherington ©-9587

Photo credit: Kaz Senju

Moderated by Marvin Heiferman, the event was an opportunity for students to articulate their processes to a public audience, as well as gain solid experience of how to pull together a show from beginning to end as a team of artists. Reflecting on their first two semesters and, in some cases, on earlier photography before embarking on the program, the students had to dig deep, asking themselves, “Why do we make photographs?”

Pippa Hetherington ©-9778

Photo credit: Kaz Senju

Backed by faculty, family and friends, the class used the opportunity to show gratitude to those who have supported them by sharing personal insights of graduate scholarship.

Nayland Blake introduced the event with affirmation for the students and recognition of this milestone—the midway mark of the program. The evening’s exhibition, charged with creative excitement for the students, represented a stepping stone towards the second year of the program.

Pippa Hetherington ©-9727

Photo credit: Kaz Senju

Several of the students endorsed the inspired nature of the evening:

“Sharing my experience of this past year with a room full of people made me feel validated. I felt like everything I have been working on connects somehow, and I’m looking forward to exploring more next year.” – Genevieve Fournier

“I thought Slidefest 2018 was a wonderful opportunity to both demonstrate and celebrate the hard work we’ve put in during our first year of the MFA program. It was incredible to see how each student has grown and changed in a few short months.” – Michael McFadden

The following students were involved:

Samantha Box –  @samantha.box

Ali DiLuccia  – @alidiluccia

Genevieve Fournier – @gen_fournier

Avijit Halder – @avijithalder

Pippa Hetherington – @pippa_hetherington

Eugene Lee – @eugenevoyeur

Andrea Martucci – @artistandreamartucci

Michael McFadden – @mcfaddenphoto

Tomo Morisawa – @tomomorisawa

Lily Mott – @spillylily

Freddie Rankin – @flrsglobal

David Tu Sun Song – @davidtusunsong

Interview with Naima Green

Naima Green-JTP Coffee.jpg

Lily: Can you tell us little bit about yourself? 

Naima: Sure, I was born in Philadelphia and raised in New York. My dad is an academic so we lived around different college campuses throughout the northeast. I graduated from Barnard College where I majored in urban studies and sociology. After Barnard, I worked at a law firm briefly. I quickly learned that working at a firm was not for me and I left to teach high school visual arts. While teaching, I earned my Master’s in Art Education from Teachers College at Columbia University. 

Before I came to ICP I was teaching at a private school in Brooklyn. I left to commit to my practice and give myself the gift of being a full-time artist. That’s how I ended up here. 

Lily: Oh, cool. So you were a teacher, what age kids did you teach? High school?

Naima: I taught mostly in high school, but had some sweet middle school students and advisees. In the high school, I taught a range of classes from drawing and painting to 3D modeling, animation and smartphone photography. 

Lily: Awesome. Do you think you’ll go back to teaching?

Naima: I think I would like to teach college at some point, but for right now, I think my teaching is going to happen in other ways. I was recently a guest artist at Recess Assembly, which is at an artist-led diversion program for court-involved youth. The students were between the ages of 16 and 25, which is a wider gap than I was used to, and it was fantastic to be in that role again.

Lily: Cool. So on the subject of teaching, do you“teach” through your photos and art? Are there any messages you are trying to get out?

Naima: Yeah, definitely. Before I started this program, I was working on a body of work called “Jewels from the Hinterland”, and it’s all about re-visioning black and brown bodies in urban green spaces.  I think a lot of that work came from a place of like, yes, it was something that I wanted to see for myself and for my friends who know that this is a reality for us.  But it also did become a way of teaching, because there were a lot of people to whom these images were just completely outside of their imagination. In that way, where it’s making something visible, yes. 

Lily: For your work, who is your target audience, if you have one?

Naima: When I make work, I’m thinking about my peers. I’m thinking about people I’m in conversation with; the audience in some sense, are the communities I have around me, but I don’t think that my work completely excludes people who are not in my community. I think there are a lot of different entry points into the work, like the photo booth project, for example. Most people have some sort of memory in a photo booth, an experience of seeing a photo-strip, something.  

My works about my home might be more exclusionary. I’m thinking about Mumbo Jumbo and the people who come into my house. Yes, those works, involve the people I keep close but it is also a reminder that we can all create some sense of home. 

Lily: Can you tell me a little bit about your textile work and the use of hair?

Naima: In the show (I made three new pieces on Tuesday) there will be a few weavings, and all of them will have my hair. 

The act of weaving is a place to be present with what is right in front of me and now, I’m realizing, a way to memorialize my hair. The weavings also have become a form of self-portraiture. I have been interested in making a portrait without using the body for a long time. I started looking at kitchens and bathrooms as a way to make a portrait of a person by thinking about what’s in their environment and how that can be so revealing about who we are. I began looking to weaving as a way to make a self-portrait of where I am at the time. There’s one that has a clothing tag and dried herbs in it with my hair rolled through some lavender and things like that. I’m interested in bringing parts of my home into those pieces.

Lily: That’s very cool. I’m a fan of weaving. 

Naima: Yeah, because you make your own, right?

Lily: Yeah. So I can relate to a lot of that. Lets talk about your show. Can you tell us the title of your show and a little bit about it?

Naima: All the black language is the title of the show.  It will have four larger color photographs, one black and white image, some work made in a photo booth, and some self-portraits, weavings, and two text pieces. It sounds like a lot of disparate things but I think the elements will really come together. 

Lily: What is the message that you’re trying to send out with your show, or is there no message?

Naima: I think the message is that language is so varied and can be so multiple. I’m trying to play with the shifts and bends in language. There’s a double-exposure of woman named Michelle Lisa next to a picture of an outdoor highboy table with a 5 or 6 chairs around it. Each of those chairs fits just so. I’m interested in the ways our bodies shift, based on who or what’s around, or where we are and how comfortable we are. 

For a long time I was working very singularly, trying to just focus on the one person in the frame. Now, I’ve found myself more drawn to more of a chaotic energy and finding my way through pictures in a different way. 

There will be two pictures that were made at Riis on one of last hot beach days last September. A friend invited me to the beach, and she was going with a whole other group of people. I just knew a couple tangentially. I didn’t know anyone well besides my friend, Jenna. And just the energy of Riis, all the way at the end, there’s the gay section, and it’s always packed on the weekends. It’s so full you can’t even see the sand because all the towels are overlapping. Those images, to me, capture some of the energy of being queer and at the beach with your friends. Someone made a fort with a thin sheer fabric and the images point to all the ways language becomes coded, or the way objects become a word or a reference into something else. I realize that these varied objects, words, and languages are like making a sentence and they won’t always make sense to everyone but my hope is that you can find your way through. Maybe you can pick up on one word or one object, and for the people that were there or recognize this place, it becomes, “Oh, that’s like my summer home, in a way.” It becomes a way to recognize and highlight our joy.

There’s a lot of doubling, layering and overlapping that happens. I’ve been trying for two years to integrate text into my work, and I haven’t done it explicitly in this show, at least not yet. I’m still working on it. But I realize more and more that text is not the only way to speak, you know?

Lily: Yeah. 

Naima: And so it’s the fact that these languages and these pictures can be varied is what I’m interested in. 

Lily: Has putting together your show impacted your view of your work?

Naima: I don’t know about my view of my work, but putting together this show has been such an emotional rollercoaster, and I recognize how important curators are. It’s been a reminder that my impulse was to show you all the great things that I’m proud of, right? And then I recognized that in trying to do that, I didn’t actually have any message. I was just like, “This is a good picture, and this is a good picture, and Justine said that’s a great picture,” and “Okay, I have to include these things.”  But the most important part of making this show was the reminder that this is not the last show I’m ever going to have. I’m not making a MFA retrospective. I really had to start thinking about what I want to say, and how I want to say it? I have a notebook that’s dedicated to the thesis show, and on the front cover I wrote “It’s a show, not the show.” 

I love being able to integrate writing, weaving, photographs, performance, and this little sculpture; to have all of those elements and still feel like it is true to what I’m saying, or a way to punctuate some of the languages, that it doesn’t have to be the same to make a sentence — that’s been so rewarding for me.

Lily: Yeah. I get that.  So how are you feeling about your upcoming show?

Naima: I’m excited. I mean, I’m nervous, and it’s interesting. I’m making so many moves that feel really new to me, and I feel super vulnerable, like putting my body on display in a way that I’ve never done. I’m sitting in that discomfort a bit but also can’t wait to know how our classmates respond. I’m thrilled to share so much of what I’ve been thinking about and working on with my friends and colleagues. I can’t wait. 

Lily: I can’t either. I’m very excited. 

Naima: Me too.


Naima Green’s show All the black language is on view May 4-6, 12-6pm or by appointment at the ICP-Bard MFA studios in Long Island City

Opening Reception: Thursday, May 3, 6-9pm

24-20 Jackson Ave, Long Island City, Fl. 3