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?
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