Baxter St at CCNY is pleased to announce 2016 Workspace Resident Nona Faustine’s solo show My Country. Building on her celebrated White Shoes series here Faustine’s performative monument-making style again tracks history and the power wielded by its perpetuated falsehoods versus its barely recognizable truth, but also boldly asks us to confront the very ideological DNA of America.
Since 2013 Faustine has gained national and international recognition for her photographic work that plays with historical narratives haunted by the black female body. She has used self-portraiture to re-mark locations in NYC where the history of slavery is literally buried physically and psychologically. The photographic documentation of her self-made monuments which avoid conventional readings of a cohesive national history work to expose the ongoing tragic legacy of slavery. These images, however, are not only about accountability, but also about our collective relationship to history. Increasingly she appears as a new heroic figure who is her sex, who is her race – and yet universal, who is more than the sum of her subjective parts.
Although her work continues to evoke a critical and emotional understanding of the past and proposes a deeper examination of contemporary racial and gender stereotypes she now adds depth to this discussion by including images of actual American monuments whose meaning today is literally riddled with obstacles. Organized as a dialogue between past and present with Faustine herself as the medium between the two, both in front of and behind the camera, this exhibit aims to make permanence feel fragile, impermanence palpable and to question everything in between.
The title of the show My Country purposely feels like a pause, an ellipse, a breath, meant to be followed by whatever the viewer chooses to think, whether it is “…tis of thee, sweet land of liberty…” or any possible descriptive sentence with that particular noun in place. However, for Faustine it is the possessive form, a declaration of ownership that informs the phrase, as if it were whispered almost inaudibly to oneself as a mantra, a sarcastic observation, or even a question. With the title she also asks us to consider what is buried beneath the words.
– text by Jorge Alberto Perez
“MY COUNTRY,” Nona Faustine’s 2016–17 solo exhibition at the small Chinatown gallery Baxter Street at the Camera Club of New York, enjoyed a special, terrible relevance, when, in that postelection, preinauguration hell, sunnier shows hardly registered. For a new series of untitled photographs exhibited there, Faustine shot monuments such as the Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial through railings or fences, partially obscuring them with dark, blurred bars. The images speak to a history marred by exclusion, imprisonment, and violence, especially when hung alongside her performance-based series “White Shoes,” 2012–, in which she appears at public sites whose connections to slavery are continually obfuscated. In Over My Dead Body, 2013, we see her from the back. Wearing nothing but white pumps and holding a shackle in one hand, she mounts the steps of the Tweed Courthouse in Manhattan, a storied edifice that overlooks the graves of the adjacent African Burial Ground, where both enslaved and free black people were interred in the eighteenth century. Faustine appears as a time traveler, an indictment, a raced and sexed body exposing a fundamental truth about our country and its vaunted landmarks. ARTFORUM.
Faustine’s photos serve to mark the places that belong to a history too often hidden from view, whether by design, or neglect, or the ever-frenetic pace of change inherent to life in New York. In one, she stands in the bright sunlight at what looks to be an unremarkable M.T.A. bus depot in Harlem. Only the picture’s title, “Negro Burial Ground,” hints at the whole truth of the depot’s past. In another, she holds a placard printed with Sojourner Truth’s famous refrain, “Ar’n’t I a Woman,” on a narrow stretch of Canal Street. There’s no plaque to mark the spot where Truth used to live, at number seventy-four. In her most recent set of pictures, Faustine approaches American history from the opposite angle, photographing iconic national monuments like the Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial. The images are gorgeous, postcard-perfect, save for the black bars that partially obscure the frame. The New Yorker.
A society immortalizes its history, achievements, and people by erecting monuments. In the United States, the Statue of Liberty, the National Air and Space Museum, and the statues dedicated to great men and the wars they fought—George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr.—all stand for freedom. In a new solo exhibition of performance and photography titled My Country, the artist Nona Faustine turns her own body into a monument to be examined in relationship to America’s celebrated and memorialized triumphs. The Creator’s Project.
When she peered through her camera’s lens, Faustine was taken aback by a thick, black streak bifurcating the frame. A bar on the ferry’s window cut through her view, obstructing the scenery and overlaying the iconic American symbol with a dark stain. The artist was convinced its imposition wasn’t wholly accidental. The Huffington Post.
In early December, on a marrow-chilling Friday morning, I was on the phone with the thirty something photographer Nona Faustine when my mind began to deviate somewhere else entirely. Midway through our conversation, I’d asked Faustine to characterize the position of the contemporary black woman in America. “Where does she sit in history?” I asked. What followed was a response so exceptional, a sentiment so achingly true and familiar, it never ceases to shock. I instantly began to think of the black women who orbit my life. “It’s been such a sad journey,” she said, “I’m very proud of us because we’re survivors and we’re achievers. I don’t think that the landscape of America would look the way it does without black women in it.” Fader.
While focusing on the complicated legacy of the Statue of Liberty, Faustine also took her camera to the capital, where she turned her lens on some of the nation’s most visible memorials, including the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the White House. The stark, simple images, all obscured or disrupted in a similar fashion, strip the landmarks of their glory. “I live in a city and a country that are filled with monuments and icons of all sorts—mostly to white men,” she says. “They convey their history. It’s a one-sided legacy.” It’s this imbalance that Faustine also confronts in her self-portraits, which demand that we remember the histories that remain otherwise invisible on the streets of New York today. Artsy.
Faustine’s valiant presence — she often appears looking at the camera and wearing nothing more than a pair of white heels — distills the history to a personal, human plane. For the monument photos, she puts a severe black line over images of political landmarks ranging from the Statue of Liberty to the Lincoln Memorial; the graphic interruption stands for the scores of mistreated Americans for whom such structures and their supposed representation of the common good have remained inaccessible. Whether gesturing at injustice in this stark manner, or channeling it through her own body, Faustine makes long-term issues newly urgent. The Village Voice.
Nona Faustine’s solo exhibit “My Country” investigates the history of slaves and immigrants in their contributions to a Country “built upon their backs” through beautiful, thought provoking photography. Faustine connects the past and present using self portraiture, alongside national monuments to “underscore the history of ostracized Americans” with the use of the black female body. In this way, she hopes to evoke a critical and emotional understanding of our past, as well as evoking an understanding of racial and gender stereotypes. The exhibit is organized as a dialogue between past and present, and the viewer will find Faustine both behind and in front of the camera. Untapped Cities.
In these images, we see the nation’s great symbols through bars. The Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Statue of Liberty are all bisected by a looming dark line that you eventually realize is a strut from some fence or enclosure that puts us in the position as viewers of those, who like slaves, are enabled to see the promised land of freedom but are prevented from fully becoming part of this nation. Faustine makes this point evident by pulling back the focal point to reveal the dark, horizontal lines as bars constructed to keep “others” out and insiders in. The artist contends that the putatively “national” monument (that is supposed to be representative of the nation) is seen but never possessed by some, and particularly her access to it is restricted. But she is defiant. Hyperallergic.