This week at Art Basel in Miami Beach, you’ll find Nona Faustine’s print series, “My Country,” presented by Two Palms. The Brooklyn-based artist, recently named in the first group of artists for Kehinde Wiley’s Black Rock Senegal Residency, is known for her photographic works that investigate our nation’s history of slavery, as well as the hidden stories behind national monuments and statues.
Whitewall spoke with Faustine about her latest series, the “gold” in accidents, and her plans for Miami.
WHITEWALL: Can you tell us about the starting point for the new print series you’ll be debuting with Two Palms?
NONA FAUSTINE: “My Country” began on the Staten Island Ferry in 2016, before the election. As I was crossing the Hudson River, I photographed the Statue of Liberty and the frame of the window I was shooting through cut across the pedestal of the monument. It felt a bit like a premonition for the coming election, but also spoke to me about the current state of our country. I started thinking about going to Washington and photographing all of these statues that are iconic representations of America, but also represent a hidden life and history of African involvement.
As I think more about it, the idea originated before that, with my “White Shoes” series. For “White Shoes,” I photographed my body as a temporary monument to mark sites pertaining to slavery in New York City. I had been looking at this country’s monuments and thinking about the history embedded in them and what it means when a nation’s story is one-sided. I wanted to photograph monuments in ways in which they had not been seen before and create a new visual language for myself.
WW: Can you tell us about the process of translating your photographs into silkscreens?
NF: It has been incredible collaborating with the team at Two Palms. Once I had selected the images I wanted to use, we went through a process of discussing how I wanted them to look, or more importantly, how I wanted them to feel. The prints are different from the photographs in the way in which ink is used to add a bit more drama and emphasis to certain areas. The silkscreen of M.J Sims is a great example —we were able to utilize the printing process and the medium in a way that I think emphasizes this history of M.J Sims. I feel that I have more creative liberty with the printing process.
WW: Your series, “My Country” began from an accident—a blurred line through a photo of the statue of liberty. What made you want to revisit that imagery?
NF: I have always believed there is gold in accidents. I saw the bold geographic black line of the window frame as a tool to discuss my own history, and also that of this nation. It was heavy, conceptual and intrusive with deep meaning, but it also felt like a puzzle, and I liked that.
WW: To capture these monuments, you’ve traveled to D.C., Jacksonville, Charlottesville. How has that experience impacted the image you’re creating for the series?
NF: Each image is imbued with the history of the place which creates context for the image. As we are examining these monuments, we are capturing a snapshot of the nation, thinking about who the monuments were made for, who they serve, and their effect on us is when we see them.
WW: You’ve been selected for the first group of artists for the Black Rock Senegal Residency. First, congrats! Do you yet have a goal in mind for your time there?
NF: For now, I do not. I seek to let the creative process work its magic by observing, listening, and letting it come to me organically.
WW: Outside of the fair, what are you looking forward to seeing and doing in Miami this December?
NF: This is my first time to Miami, so I am excited to taste its famous foods, visit its beaches, enjoy some great art, and perhaps find some monuments.