Pur·suit by Naima Green
Bklyn Boihood for Pur·suit by Naima Green
While working on her MFA thesis, All the black language, at the New York Public Library in 2017, Naima Green came upon Catherine Opie’s Dyke Deck, a set of poker cards that playfully looks into the lives and performances of ‘90s lesbians in the Bay Area.
“The deck felt both new and old, still radical and iconic. I knew it would find a place in my own work as I wanted to add to the ethos of queer cultures,” Green writes on her Kickstarter page.
With Opie’s blessing, Green reimages the Dyke Deck for the modern day as Pur·suit — a vital celebration of queer, trans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming communities for women of color.
Here, Green shares her journey in search of a missing data set, creating a space of love, respect, and visibility for groups that have largely been marginalized in the art world. Visit Kickstarter to support the project and earn some great rewards.
Alicia for Pur·suit by Naima Green
Could you take us back to your discovery of the Dyke Deck and tell us what that moment was like for you at that time in your career?
“It’s stunning that I had never seen or heard of this work before plugging keywords into databases at the NYPL. At the time, my thesis show was still unnamed, a lot of the work unmade. It was the most generative time of my career – I felt new. And, at the same time, exhausted by daily classes, emotional excavation, and disappointing relationships. I had never been more tired than the fall of 2017.
“I value analog processes and object making. During that time I hand stitched books, made weavings, starting flirting with sculpture, and was writing almost daily. I made pictures, too. Focusing mostly on queer women in their homes and home-like spaces, photographing the objects that create a space, a person, a portrait.”
When did you decide you wanted to re-imagine the deck, and how did you wish to use this opportunity to expand and/or amplify the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality in the new deck?
“After 23 years, I didn’t fully see myself or my community in Opie’s deck. I found so much pleasure parsing through her work and thinking about which of my friends might identify with what characters if any. I knew I needed to make a Brooklyn version that reflected my people.”
Fariah for Pur·suit by Naima Green
What sources of inspiration helped guide you forth to conceptualize and actualize an inclusive vision?
“A dear friend recommended Sister Love: The Letters of Audre Lorde and Pat Parker 1974-1989. I inhaled the book and since reading the letters wondered about the contours of Pat Parker’s community.
“Where did they convene? Who shared meals together? What did the Bay Area look and feel like back then? What of her community that spanned several cities? What was it like to be a young, black, queer, up and coming artist five decades ago? My inability to get inside that experience has motivated me to create work that will answer those questions for posterity.
“In making this work I’ve also thought a lot about David Hammons and R&B portraits from the 90s.”
Could you speak about the casting process, and how you brought together such an expansive group of people for the project?
“I started with friends, exes, and recommendations but I also wanted to work with as many new people as possible. I had my first open call and I emailed a lot of folks I’ve never met.
“Typically, I shoot individual portraits, so I was really excited about couples and collectives. Oh, the couples were so tender – what a privilege to have a peek into someone else’s love and relationship.
“I am particularly proud of and inspired by the collectives who agreed to take part: Yellow Jackets Collective, Bklyn Boihood, and BUFU. They’re all doing important community-driven work. The essence of Bklyn Boihood is Joy, their eponymous party. Their parties are more than just parties: they’re spaces for soul-work, black celebration, revelry. I think about black joy often; how it’s endangered and how critical it is to experience true delight in and through each other’s company.
“I shot Bklyn Boihood on a Saturday morning. We had so much fun. When I think about Bklyn Boihood, I think about their kinship, their support, the way they uplift and clown one another. When I think about them and our morning session, I’ll always think about joy and I’m grateful.”
Angel + Shira for Pur·suit by Naima Green
Could you share any discoveries or surprises that greeted you along this journey?
“The vulnerability and openness participants shared and continue to share with me brings a new level of gratitude. I asked Vanessa if I can share some of their thoughts that resonate deeply with my intentions for this work.
“there is something to be said about the power of visibility. i cannot reflect on the person that i have become, without recalling each moment that i saw another black, queer person living their life, their truths, their dreams, their love. and in turn, showing me that i had the power and the freedom to do that too. it is also visibility that puts our lives at risk. whether it is being visibly black or visibly queer, there isn’t a moment that i’m not conscious that i could be the victim of a senseless hate crime at any given time or place. and yet, my visibility doesn’t scare me. doesn’t diminish me. i may fear the hate of others, but i am in complete love with and awe of myself. me as ancestral proof. me as this fluid being from the future sent here to fuck shit up. me as everything and everyone that’s come before and will come after me. there is a liberating power in allowing yourself to be seen by your communities and seeing your community as well. that’s how we manifest together, protect each other, and ensure that while hate and fear may try to kill us, we cannot be stopped and can never be erased.”
—Vanessa Newman, multidisciplinary creative (they/them)
Could you speak about the choice of a deck of cards as the vehicle for this project, and what makes this format particularly special to you? Do you have a favorite card game, card, or suit?
“My dear friend and sweet sister, Annie Novak, gifted me the Dali tarot deck years ago. That deck has restored me to myself time and time again. Pur·suit has elements of playing and tarot cards and to organize the deck, I designed a 13-question survey for participants and made a key so that answers would translate to diamonds, spades, hearts or clubs. I asked questions like: What tarot suit are you? Pick a season. What day of the week do you identify with? It was brief and fun and the naming process happened through participant contributions.
“I love the idea of transforming something that can be bought at the bodega or considered ‘low brow’ into something dear yet still quotidian, usable. I can’t wait to use Pur·suit in a game of spades.”
Yellowjackets Collective for Pur·suit by Naima Green
All images: © Naima Green