New York has a reputation for being a melting pot, but it also has a strong history of slave trading. For her photo series, White Shoes, artist Nona Faustine wanted to call attention to that history and its enduring legacy. I see myself, the people who built this city and country as one. They deserve so much recognition for their sacrifice and contributions, something that is still being denied them. There was a force deep inside of me that needed to pay homage to those who played a pivotal role in the early history of this city, and the spaces in which they existed. I wanted to uncover those places where a tangible link to the past exists.
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"Making this work has helped me with the trauma that has been handed down."
Warning: some of the below content is NSFW.
Nona Faustine's photographs are blowing up on Facebook and no one is more surprised than her. Born and raised in Brooklyn, with a distinct city accent, her tone is as light as her work is somber. In the "White Shoes" photo series, Faustine appears in the places where African slaves were bought, sold, and traded in 's New York City. Her expression is solemn, in some photos there is a shackle on one of her limbs, and aside from her shoes, she is completely naked. Despite feeling as though she didn't possess the same language and technical skills as her classmates, she forged ahead in her art-making, determined to make them eat the words, "You don't belong here. I always wanted to make a really powerful piece of work, and there are things you carry with you throughout your life: ideas, incidents, and history.
Search Submit. Nona Faustine was really moved the first time she saw an image of an enslaved woman called Delia , alone and semi-nude. She looked like she could be one of my family members. The series, which evoked the history of slavery on which New York is built, saw Faustine photographing herself nude at various locations in New York City where African slaves arrived, lived, and died.
There is often a collective amnesia in the North that suggests slavery was strictly a Southern evil, that the buying and selling of human bodies took place solely in states located on the wrong side of the Mason-Dixon. New York City, beacon of liberalism and diversity that it is today, could not have been home to such cruel and brutal injustices. But the ugly, hard-to-swallow truth is that New York — once the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam — was the capital of American slavery for more than years. Save for the pair of high heels beneath her feet and a piece of broken black chain around her wrist, Faustine is completely nude in the images, a showing of solidarity with the women who stood in her place centuries before. Taken in broad daylight, the photos had to be snapped quickly, before drawing too much attention. In addition to the nudity, the images featured in the photographs are steeped in symbolism. We have a history here. We have an incredible history here. A history of contribution, of beauty and pain.