Home as a state of mind #2: Naima Green

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In the second in our four part series, Home as a state of mind, Naima Green discusses her project Jewels from the Hinterland: portraits of New York creatives from the African diaspora in green, urban spaces

“When I think of home, I think about freedom,” Naima Green explains. “I think about a place where you can truly be yourself. A place of safety, play and pleasure.” In Jewels from the Hinterland, the New York artist makes portraits of creatives from the African diaspora in green, urban spaces. Each photograph is loving and tender, a meditation on the restorative power of nature and our relationship to the land.

The environment is a palpable foreground to her encounters. It envelops her sitters, sprawling, lush, open and ever-growing, infusing quietude and life force into the scenes of Black community it depicts. Politics underpin Green’s poetic photographs. Jewels from the Hinterland is a rejection of the cultural tropes of picturing Black life against gradations of grey. Instead, she interrogates the built environment and the cycle of myths it perpetuates, attempting to bridge the gap between fraught visual histories and life today.

Oakland, CA - Jay Katelansky, Artist, at Temescal Regional Recreation Area for Jewels from the Hinterland.

Responding to the prevailing and pervasive images of Black people in Bruce Davidson’s East 100th Street and Gordon Parks’ A Harlem Family, Green’s work proposes an alternative narrative – one that transcends violence and trauma. “I’m not interested in denying those realities,” says Green. “I’m focused on the fact that Black people are only situated in urban decay. When we only see images of death and grit, this leads to notions that Black life is disposable. I’m interested in what it means to see Black life in environments that are growing and vibrant. This is a reality I know is real and true, but I didn’t see anywhere.”

Like many of Green’s projects, community is at the core of the work. Jewels from the Hinterland is more than just a collection of images. It is an ecosystem of interconnected relationships formed over 10 years, traversing New York, Houston, Miami, Oakland and Chicago.

“There are a few different utopias that I’m reaching towards,” says Green. “With the project, I’m thinking about normalising seeing Black and Brown people being outside, just existing, and not having to worry about the dangers of daily life that we currently have to think about. I want people to have access to space that makes them feel vibrant and full – spaces of possibility.”

Gem Fletcher

Creative director, writer, podcaster and photo director, Gem Fletcher works across visual-cultural fields, focusing on emerging talent in contemporary photography and art. She is the photo director of Riposte Magazine, and hosts a photography podcast, The Messy Truth.