Artist Poses Nude At Former Sites of Slavery in NYC
In her series entitled “White Shoes”, Brooklyn based artist Nona Faustine poses nude at former sites of slavery around New York City, including Wall Street.
Faustine says that her work pays tribute to slaves who are an important part of the history of the city, but whose stories have been forgotten. She told Dodge & Burn:
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.
Generally, people tend to forget that slavery existed in Northern states. In fact, in New York, slavery was legal from the 1600s to 1827 when it was abolished. During the colonial era, Africans in slavery were as much as 20% of the population of the city. Since the city’s economy depended on trade of people and agricultural goods, slaves were a financial asset and the key to New York’s economic growth.
Faustine’s photos are set in the diverse, liberal metropolis of today, but it reminds us of past treatment of black bodies as property. She is seen posing as several locations that represent the power, influence, and history of the city, such as Wall Street, City Hall, and the Atlantic Coast. In some of the images, she does not have a face, as many of the faces and stories of slaves in the city have been forgotten. She wears white shoes throughout the series because “They are symbolic of the white patriarchy that we cannot escape.” As she told Dodge & Burn:
Unmasked of course it is me in the present. The cutout figures with part or whole pieces of my face missing reference the unnamed and forgotten in the history of slavery and the horrific violence that went with it. The masked figure is symbolic of my Great-grandmother who as a little girl was brought here on the slave ships with her sister. They both survived that remarkable journey. The one picture of her in my family album is damaged where her face would be. I don’t know what she looks like, however my mother who grew up with her tells me, “if you ever want to see her just look in the mirror.” As I get older she says that I look more and more like her.
Now more than ever, it’s important that we as a country recognize and own our history of slavery. Not only do we owe it to the many who have suffered, but we must realize that the very racial social problems that exist today have a direct link to the past. Faustine’s work captures that link and with her camera, exposes a hidden part of the city’s history.
view the full series here.
Feature image via Wikimedia Commons.