As a child, I watched as my parents tended to our flower and vegetable gardens. My home in Westchester, only 25 minutes outside New York City, was enveloped in lush greenery that made me feel at ease. I can still see the golden tomatoes, dwarf irises, and my dad’s famous collard greens; fragrant beds of thyme, verbena, and mint propagated right outside the back door. My backyard is not the typical narrative associated with blackness. I longed to see my experience reflected in the media, but never did. What I saw instead were black and brown bodies in rough, hard, and aggressive spaces. Contemporary American audiences are often comfortable seeing brown faces this way: in desolate, concrete spaces that can, and frequently do, suggest decay.
Jewels from the Hinterland explores this absence. Since 2013, I have photographed over 80 subjects who identify as multi-disciplinary artists of color, making portraits of creative individuals in and around New York City, in which black and brown figures anchor overgrown fields with abstract forms and vibrant colors. This series investigates questions of place, belonging, and perceived cultural identity within urban diasporic communities. As nature grows around the individuals, so does the city landscape, like a continuous grid. I make images of these artists feeling at ease in natural green spaces, regions where black and brown urbanites are not “supposed” to be at home: our hinterlands.
I seek to complicate narratives of blackness by documenting our presences in lush, green spaces, rejecting singular representations of black people as dehumanized caricatures, sexual objects, and slaves. The images I compose offer visualizations of leisure, vulnerability, refuge, and my experience of home. As an artist and educator, I am convinced by the power of arts-based storytelling. I make work that is expansive, work that adds to our emerging historical narrative, work that investigates nuance, and work that listens and responds.
Influences: Deana Lawson, Dawoud Bey, Taryn Simon, Gordon Parks, Bruce Davidson, and Kerry James Marshall