African-American Artist Poses Nude at New York’s Historic Slavery Sites
A variety of commodities have been traded overtime on Wall Street, but one that often goes unmentioned, until now, is human beings.
Brooklyn-based artist Nona Faustine explores these historic sites in her native city of New York through her photography series “White Shoes,” where she poses nude, wearing nothing but white 1950s-style pumps in places around New York associated with the city’s history of slavery.
Wall Street, an eight-block strip in downtown Manhattan that has come to symbolize the financial markets of the country and, by extension, the opportunities for success and upward mobility promised by the national ethos of the “American dream,” operated from 1711 to 1762 as the city’s first slave market, where in one day 50 Native and African men, women, and children could be bought and sold.
While the financial district’s abominable past has long been overlooked, Faustine aims to bring it back into the conversation.
“Standing at Wall Street at the exact spot where they sold Native and African men, women, and children 150 years ago, I wasn’t able to feel any of the horrific sorrow and pain of the activities that once went on there,” Faustine told the Huffington Post. “Perhaps it was a defense mechanism that wouldn’t allow me to tap into that for fear of crumbling. What I did feel was the energy of New York City, an incredible force. There I found myself at the curtain of time between two eras, past and present. I went into a deep reflection.”
Faustine investigates the dissonance between the past and the present of these complex spaces. One self-portrait of the artist, shows her ascending the stairs of City Hall, whose site was an original African burial ground. Another photo, taken at a Dutch pre-revolutionary cemetery in Brooklyn, depicts three cut-outs of the artist, who acts as a stand-in for the three slaves buried in the yard.
Recently, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city’s first lady Chirlane McCray unveiled a commemorative plaque marking the site of the 18th century open-air slave market on Wall Street.
“The concept of ‘We the People’ was undermined and sullied from the beginning by slavery. The quest to form a more perfect union was made imperfect by racism,” the mayor said in a statement on June 27.
Faustine’s series comes at a time where identity politics and race issues have been a major and constant topic of discussion.
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