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art now… as social commentary on HAF

Nona Faustine’s “White Shoes” interview

” No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear
In times of dread, artists must never choose to remain silent”
Toni Morrison

What is most remarkable about Nona Faustine’s work “White Shoes” is that it has brought to many people, both in this country and globally, the long kept secret that the “free” north, that we have been lead to believe in history books, was not free at all. It was her walk home from New York City to Brooklyn in the 1990’s when Nona accidentally walked upon barricaded streets, with police and construction workers, to learn later that human bones had been discovered during excavation. Nona was soon to learn, there were over 400 African bodies buried in the so called African burial ground. It has been estimated there could be as many as 20,000 bodies yet buried beneath buildings in downtown Manhattan. Dr. Michael Blakey, a biological anthropologist from Howard University says the bones have already revealed that the African slaves were probably involved in a range of activities, helping to transform New York into a bustling seaport.

Nona was a MFA candidate at ICP-Bard (International Center of Photography) in NYC and ” White Shoes” was her senior project. According to Nona, the white shoes represent “white patriarchy that we cannot escape.”

Nona: “Standing at Wall Street at the exact spot where they sold Native and African men, women, and children 150 years ago, I wasn’t able to feel any of the horrific sorrow and pain of the activities that once went on there. Perhaps it was a defense mechanism that wouldn’t allow me to tap into that for fear of crumbling. What I did feel was the energy of New York City, an incredible force. There I found myself at the curtain of time between two eras, past and present. I went into a deep reflection. My eyes are wide open, and still I’m there and not there. My body is pumping with adrenaline. My anxiety is extremely high. During all that, you filter out as much abstractions as possible so that you can maintain some sort of composure for the camera as people, cars and buses go by. My senses are elevated. Sounds in particular I hone into. I have this feeling of being watched, by something or someone not actually there at times. I’m extremely aware of my presence in these places.”

HAF: 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the Dada movement, whose primary goal was to use art as a means to challenge the fascist society of the time. Can art successfully challenge a fixed mindset?

Nona: I am still learning about the Dada movement. Its inspiration coming out of a response to World War I. The movement was a protest against the bourgeois nationalist and colonialist and was intended to offend. Similarly there is a war going on in America. It is a war on black, native people, the poor, immigrants, the bodies of women, there is a revisionist type of philosophy taking place here in America. Attempts to revise the history of slavery and genocide, to deny acts of brutality, and murder, an attack on civil right gains and to viciously attack anyone who dares to shed light on these issues or speak up for the people.

My “White Shoes” series is an expression of the times we live in and myself as an artist, woman, a black woman, an American, a New Yorker, a mother, a daughter, one of the proud descendants of the enslaved and the effects of all of that on me. As Hugo Ball expressed it, “For us, art is not an end in itself…but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in. “In that respect I would say those themes of Dada run through “White Shoes”. Nona Faustine Simmons


HAF: Congratulations on your inclusion in Huffington Post “artists to watch in 2016” You were selected as one of the seventeen artists; do you know how huff post became aware of you? Do you know about the selection process they used?

Nona: Not at all! They did not share with me.  Priscilla Frank did the first written piece on me in June 2015. She contacted me just like you did. Then later at the end of the year Artists to watch came out.

HAF:  The image of nudity in public can be a sensitive issue to embrace.   What conversations should a parent have to their sons and daughters about this work and how it should be viewed in context with our disillusioned society?

Nona:  I think parents should be talking about a healthy appreciation of the body in everyday life and the body in art, of course we know nudity in art is nothing new and is as ancient as humanity. Parents should give their kids a large dose of art education outside of what they learn in school. Appreciation and knowledge is fundamental. I also think they should be talking about the history of black people around the world particularly in the context of the struggle for freedom and protest and the myriad of ways that can happen. Sojourner Truth speaking in church before an audience of men, women, black and white ripped open her shirt to reveal her bare breasts declared  “Aren’t I A Woman!” I am part of a long tradition.


nona faustine, usa
nona faustine, usa
nona faustine, usa
white shoes photography
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