Her black body, posing naked at these seemingly innocent sites, serves as a stunning visual reminder of their shameful hidden histories. “I go to these sites, and for a brief moment, I memorialize what was lost, and who was there, and mark that spot.” One image sees the photographer posing in a long white skirt at the MTA Bus Depot in Harlem, the site of of a former African Burial Ground. Others commemorate heroic figures, such as Sojourner Truth. Standing outside of the abolitionist’s former home on 74 Canal Street, she holds a sign that reads “Ain’t I A Woman?” in reference to her famous 1851 speech, a powerful expression of women’s rights and an enduring emblem of strong, independent womanhood.
In another image, she gazes up at the bronze statue of George Washington on the steps of Federal Hall, the site of his inauguration in 1789. Washington, she reminds me, was a slaveowner himself, yet this fact is eerily eclipsed in the history books, statues, and monuments that memorialize the nation’s first president. While focusing on the complicated legacy of the Statue of Liberty, Faustine also took her camera to the capital, where she turned her lens on some of the nation’s most visible memorials, including the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the White House. The stark, simple images, all obscured or disrupted in a similar fashion, strip the landmarks of their glory. “I live in a city and a country that are filled with monuments and icons of all sorts—mostly to white men,” she says. “They convey their history. It’s a one-sided legacy.” It’s this imbalance that Faustine also confronts in her self-portraits, which demand that we remember the histories that remain otherwise invisible on the streets of New York today.