Naima Green: I Keep Missing My Water

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This article is printed in the latest issue of British Journal of Photography magazine: Tradition & Identity. Available to purchase at thebjpshop.com.

Inspired by her love of water, Naima Green’s latest exhibition uses the still and moving image to study the everyday possibilities and relationships that nourish the soul

Like many people on holiday, I recently spent a week gazing at the ocean. Without realising, I made staring at the water my daily ritual, to marvel at the infinite blue, watching its changing rhythm, getting lost in the sonic force of the crashing waves. The regenerative power of the changing tides felt like the ultimate balm after two years of constraint. Naturalist Michael McCarthy describes the natural world as ”the resting place for our psyches”, a way to cleanse the anxiety and fears that lie deep in our tissues.

In I Keep Missing My Water, a new exhibition by Naima Green, the New York-based artist uses the presence of water to cleanse and awaken us to the possibilities of what could be. Opening in September and curated by Amber Esseiva, the multimedia presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University weaves photographs, video, sound and ephemera to evoke metaphors of pleasure, care and vitality. Green contemplates the relationship between the spaces we live in and the body we inhabit, carefully knitting together complex histories, relationships and ways of being. The result is a rich and visceral rehabilitation for the soul. An invitation to release the pressures we put upon ourselves and show up as who we are.

© Naima Green
© Naima Green

“Rather than having a specific idea of how I want everything to look, I’ve been creating environments or scenarios with people I love and seeing if anything comes from that, but not demanding it”

“I have a deep relationship with water,” says Green. ”I learned to swim before I could walk. It was something that my dad and I did together. I love being outdoors. It clears my head in a way nothing else can. The ocean’s vastness gives me a perspective shift that is so helpful.” She continues: “Even before the [Covid-19] pandemic, I felt restricted in many ways. Then to be forced into quarantine and be deprived of touch for half of 2020, it felt so necessary to be in situations where I could feel something bigger than the anxiety or insomnia or whatever it may be that I was struggling with.”

© Naima Green

Green’s images flex and flow between simple pleasures: boiling an egg, squeezing a grapefruit, watering a garden, peeing in the desert, bodies in vast expanses of water. They conjure an almost childlike sense of wonder and freedom, reflecting on everyday actions, which might seem insignificant but are actually, “so nourishing”. Relationships and community sit at the heart of Green’s practice. In I Keep Missing My Water, she traverses Virginia, California, New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, all home to significant familiar relationships and personal histories. “It’s been a process of deepening some important relationships in my life and spending time with people I haven’t seen in many years,” Green shares. “There is so much pleasure in the process [of image-making]. It’s very different from how we would be together, sitting having tea or being at a bar. The work is a space to slow down, play and have fun.”

The show marks an evolution in Green’s life and artistic practice. While she remains deeply committed to centring the lives of Black and Brown people and the LGBTQIA+ community, the events of the last two years have instilled a newfound liberation in her creative process. “Rather than having a specific idea of how I want everything to look, I’ve been creating environments or scenarios with people I love and seeing if anything comes from that, but not demanding it,” she explains. “I’m permitting myself to figure [the work] out as I go. In the past, I felt I needed a very academic framework for what I was doing. Now the deeper the sensory point hits – that’s what feels good to me. I don’t have the perfect language for it, but it feels like an unveiling.”

I Keep Missing My Water is on show at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University from 09 September 2022 to 08 January 2023.

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.