Visual Culture

Naima Green Captures the Many Faces of the Queer Community

Eloise Blondiau
Mar 7, 2019 8:38PM

Naima Green, Jenna, from “Pur·suit,” 2018–present. Courtesy of the artist.

Naima Green, River, from “Pur·suit,” 2018–present. Courtesy of the artist.

Every person who walks through the doors of Naima Green’s apartment in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, is photographed on her gilded antique settee. A prolific host, the 29-year-old Green has collected hundreds of polaroids of her guests in the four years that she has lived there. Some drape across the (slightly lumpy) pink-and-brown embroidered surface in various stages of undress; others perch coyly on its edge, sometimes in the glow of a red neon light bulb or in the glare of her flash. Fewer than 10 houseguests have escaped Green’s lens.

“I’m consistently interested in homemaking and whatever that looks like,” said Green. Her latest project, “Pur·suit” (2018–present), returns to this theme, conveying the queer community she found in Brooklyn through a series of portraits printed on a deck of cards, an art piece for the home that also doubles as a party game.

Catherine Opie
Dyke Deck, 1990-1995
Alternate Projects
Catherine Opie
Dyke Deck, 1990-1995
Alternate Projects

“Pur·suit” was inspired by American photographer Catherine Opie’s “Dyke Deck” (ca. 1996), and even has the artist’s blessing.But whereas Opie’s deck featured mostly lesbian white women on the West Coast (couples were assigned the suit of hearts; jocks were clubs; femmes were diamonds; butches were spades), Green seeks to dismantle categories of gender and sexuality, and people of color comprise at least three-quarters of her subjects. “I want people to feel seen and included, but also for the idea of how messy identity is…to come through in this deck,” she said.

Naima Green, Yellow Jackets Collective, from “Pur·suit,” 2018–present. Courtesy of the artist.

Naima Green, Yunique, from “Pur·suit,” 2018–present. Courtesy of the artist.

For this reason, Green chose her subjects through open calls, seeking out queer women and gender-non-conforming or non-binary people (though she also included longtime friends, such as New York Times Magazine writer Jenna Wortham). As a result, at times, Green herself was challenged by her own understanding of how queer people present themselves—such as when she incorrectly assumed that someone who asked to participate was cisgender. “I had to check myself.…I can’t police their identity. And ultimately, they sat for the portrait, and it was wonderful,” she said.

“Pur·suit” is a tactile means of documenting the queer community. The deck of cards, which was recently Kickstarter-funded and will be available this summer, will also be a visual delight; the portraits of “Pur·suit” have been shot against a swathes of fabric, some studded with pearls, that provide a muted backdrop palette of cream, shimmering blue, and taupe.

Naima Green, Bklyn Boihood, from “Pur·suit,” 2018–present. Courtesy of the artist.

Naima Green, Vivian, from “Pur·suit,” 2018–present. Courtesy of the artist.

In their beauty, the portraits gently but radically remind us of their novelty. “There obviously has been a dearth of both photographers of color and specifically black photographers who photograph black subjects in beauty,” said Collier Meyerson, a writer who has written about Green’s work and sat for her, though not for “Pur·suit.” Green “recreates images that are generally seen with white bodies,” she said.

The same could be said for Green’s well-publicized portrait series “Jewels from the Hinterland” (2013–present), through which she challenges the predominant images of black people in hardened urban settings by featuring her subjects luxuriating in greenscapes like Prospect Park and Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. “I was thinking about these lush urban spaces as places for black and brown bodies,” Green said, “as places of belonging and places of home and places of leisure.” The project has been featured in two solo shows (at Arsenal Gallery and Myers Media Space, both in Manhattan), and has received press in publications like i-D, Vice, and TheFader.

Naima Green, Karen, from “Pur·suit,” 2018–present. Courtesy of the artist.

Naima Green, Sara Elise + Amber, from “Pur·suit,” 2018–present. Courtesy of the artist.

Likewise, in “Pur·suit,” Green continues to critique the status quo, but she also flaunts her historian’s instinct to document her vibrant community—as her penchant for archiving her guests reveals. “[Green] makes you feel like you’re a part of something bigger, while simultaneously making you feel exactly like yourself,” said Deana Haggag, president and CEO of the nonprofit United States Artists, who sat for Green and is a collector of her work.

Naima Green, Angel + Shira, from “Pur·suit,” 2018–present. Courtesy of the artist.

Naima Green, Austin, from “Pur·suit,” 2018–present. Courtesy of the artist.

But Green is a homemaker on a much larger scale than her Prospect Heights one-bedroom, and that’s made clear at her show openings, where the people she has photographed come together. “To be in that kind of company feels like again this collective community experience of being seen and held by this particular artist,” said Haggag. And Green herself echoed that sense of intimacy, saying, “I feel like I’ve gained family through this work.”

Green is concerned with homemaking not because she’s preoccupied with comfort or kitsch, but because she recognizes home as a locus of power.

“Home can be created and constructed in other places,” said Green. And “Pur·suit” is one of them.

Eloise Blondiau