"From Her Body Came Their Greatest Wealth", Wall Street, New York from the White Shoes series, Copyright Nona Faustine
“From Her Body Came Their Great­est Wealth”, Wall Street, New York, from the White Shoes series, Copy­right Nona Faustine

New York has a rep­u­ta­tion for being a melt­ing pot, but it also has a strong his­to­ry of slave trad­ing. For her pho­to series, White Shoes, artist Nona Faustine want­ed to call atten­tion to that his­to­ry and its endur­ing lega­cy.

“As a time trav­el­er I’m very invest­ed in the past and our future. I see myself, the peo­ple who built this city and coun­try as one. They deserve so much recog­ni­tion for their sac­ri­fice and con­tri­bu­tions, some­thing that is still being denied them. There was a force deep inside of me that need­ed to pay homage to those who played a piv­otal role in the ear­ly his­to­ry of this city, and the spaces in which they exist­ed. I want­ed to uncov­er those places where a tan­gi­ble link to the past exists. Being a doc­u­men­tar­i­an at heart I want­ed you to feel and see those spaces, let your mind won­der. What does a Black body look like today in the place where they sold human beings 250 years ago? No oth­er medi­um but pho­tog­ra­phy and film could do that. ”

"They Tagged the Land With Trophies and Institutions From Their Conquests", New York City Hall from the White Shoes series, Copyright Nona Faustine
“They Tagged the Land With Tro­phies and Insti­tu­tions From Their Con­quests”, New York City Hall, from the White Shoes series, Copy­right Nona Faustine

Although Amer­i­can slav­ery is often paint­ed as a South­ern lega­cy, it was an inte­gral part of the cul­ture and econ­o­my of North­ern states also, includ­ing New York;

“Slav­ery was intro­duced to Man­hat­tan (then New Ams­ter­dam) in 1626 and, for two cen­turies, remained a sig­nif­i­cant part of New York life. In fact, the New York City Com­mon Coun­cil declared Wall Street the city’s first offi­cial slave mar­ket on Decem­ber 13, 1711, deem­ing it a space where human beings could be enslaved for the day or for the week. The slave mar­ket took the shape of a wood­en struc­ture with open sides, and held approx­i­mate­ly 50 peo­ple at a time. It oper­at­ed as such, on the cor­ner of Wall Street and Pearl Street in the heart of the Finan­cial Dis­trict, until 1762. Slav­ery was legal­ly abol­ished in New York in 1827.”

"Over My Dead Body", New York City Hall from the White Shoes series, Copyright Nona Faustine
“Over My Dead Body”, New York City Hall, from the White Shoes series, Copy­right Nona Faustine

The use of women’s bod­ies for sociopo­lit­i­cal rea­sons is still very con­tro­ver­sial, par­tic­u­lar­ly for black wom­en. Black wom­an pro­test­ers recent­ly marched top­less dur­ing San Fran­cis­co rush hour to draw atten­tion to police bru­tal­i­ty again­st black wom­en, a move that drew both admi­ra­tion and crit­i­cism.

As for Faustine, shed­ding her clothes pub­licly was both exhil­er­at­ing and chal­leng­ing;

“My eyes are wide open, and still I’m there and not there. My body is pump­ing with adren­a­line. My anx­i­ety is extreme­ly high. Dur­ing all that, you fil­ter out as much abstrac­tions as pos­si­ble so that you can main­tain some sort of com­po­sure for the cam­era as peo­ple, cars and bus­es go by. My sens­es are ele­vat­ed. Sounds in par­tic­u­lar I hone into. I have this feel­ing of being watched, by some­thing or some­one not actu­al­ly there at times. I’m extreme­ly aware of my pres­ence in the­se places.”

"On This Spit Of Land Massa and I Reside", Pre-revolutionary Dutch Cemetery, Brooklyn from the White Shoes series, Copyright Nona Faustine
“On This Spit Of Land Mas­sa and I Reside”, Pre-rev­o­lu­tion­ary Dutch Ceme­tery, Brook­lyn, from the White Shoes series, Copy­right Nona Faustine

Faustine’s pho­to series was inspired in part by Saartjie “Sarah” Baart­man, known as Venus Hot­ten­tot; a Khoikhoi African wom­an whose large but­tocks and curvy fig­ure were exhib­it­ed in freak shows through­out 19th cen­tu­ry Europe.

As for the white shoes in Faustine’s pho­tog­ra­phy, they rep­re­sent “the white patri­archy that we can­not escape.” 

What do you think of the White Shoes pho­to series?
You can find Nona Faustine on Insta­gram and Face­book.

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noel­lis­te, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop cul­ture and black beau­ty enthu­si­ast. bell hooks’ hair twin…

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387 Comments on "Black Woman Artist Poses Nude at Former New York City Slave Trading Sites, Including Wall Street"

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Kita Williams

Absolute­ly love the bold state­ment. Black wom­an in its rarest form tak­ing back the image that was meant to ridicule and debase. I applaud her

Nia Says

noth­ing short of amaz­ing. This gave me pause and per­spec­tive.

Philly Jawn

No

cryssi

I felt pain see­ing the­se. It felt present. I had ques­tions, but they are irrel­e­vant to the imagery dis­played here.

lauryn

POWERFUL!! Black Wom­en Rock!! <3

Marcia JUdkins

A stark reminder of the atroc­i­ties our ances­tors were forced to endure. I applaud her courage and con­vic­tions.

Leslie

i wrote this long, pas­sion­ate, angry piece about the pain I feel when I see black wom­en being sold back on the block but instead of chains, design­er names, instead of .… Here I go again. My dream is for enough of us to be awak­ened and strength­ened to say “no more”.

ama

awe­some series. peo­ple do for­get that the north was built on the land of ndns and the backs of slaves. so I am glad she is bring­ing this back to the fore­front in her way.

Nana Ohenemaa

Just out of curios­i­ty. Was she arrest­ed for doing this, or she had a per­mit?

omfg
i’m sor­ry but this is so…well, not some­thing i want to look at. i know that peo­ple nowa­days believe that any­thing goes. peo­ple will say, ‘stop body sham­ing, fat sham­ing, wom­an sham­ing, black sham­ing, expres­sion sham­ing, cel­lulite sham­ing, feel­ing sham­ing, shame sham­ing, thug sham­ing, blah blah blah. does any­one believe in draw­ing a line at all? i must be the only one who finds the­se dis­plays annoy­ing, unhelp­ful, atten­tion-seek­ing, and a lit­tle sad.  i mean great, she’s a fat black wom­an (who takes pride in all three i sup­posed), who goes around butt naked to pose for pic­tures and calls it art. not… Read more »
FHC1990

Thumbs up x10000. I think our cul­ture has become polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect to a fault.

Guest

Lol! You’re a com­plete joke and so trans­par­ent. Sim­ply hilar­i­ous.

Nicole Lasher

It’s not as much about being proud as it is being hon­est. We’ve been told for hun­dreds of years that we are ugly no mat­ter what we do or how much we weigh. Our bod­ies have always been a spec­ta­cle for “white” peo­ple.

Wom­en of all ages and sizes were still stripped down and sold on the block. If you only want to see the “pret­ty” ones, that’s your sick fan­ta­sy, not the real­i­ty.

Marisol

So you didn’t get it. That’s prob­a­bly because she is the stalk oppo­site of who your ances­tors were…Don’t wor­ry, no one is going to shame you for being the ben­e­fi­cia­ry of her ances­tors pain.

HealthFirst

I’m unable to see past her weight. She real­ly needs to lose the weight. It’s just too unhealthy to be like that.

Nicole Lasher

Well, back in the slave days (and still in some places) some would say this “heifer” would make a mighty fine wet nurse and/or breed­er. Her price would be around the equiv­a­lent of buy­ing a new car today.

Get­ting the point yet?

Ebony

This was point­less and dis­gust­ing.

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