Two Palms is pleased to present Nona Faustine’s silkscreen series, “My Country,” her first project produced in collaboration with the New York print studio. In “My Country,” Faustine confronts and interrogates iconic American monuments, such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Statue of Liberty, using her camera to reframe conventional, colonialist perspectives, and reinserting some of the truth and trauma behind these memorialized spaces. The series was first created alongside Faustine’s critically received body of work, “White Shoes,” which garnered attention for the photographs’ provocative confrontation of slave sites throughout New York City, sites that had been obscured from the history books and contemporary life.
History fascinates, frustrates and motivates Faustine; in particular, the monuments and myths of American history—the very ones rooted in racism—that still dictate the framing of American identity and pride. Faustine is African American, and her family’s history has a direct line to African enslavement. Inherent to Faustine’s practice is not only paying tribute to the suffering of her own ancestors, but also to the status of African Americans in their own country, especially vis-a-vis the commemoration of the African American contributions to this nation’s history and society, which, until recently, have at best been grossly ignored, and at worst stolen and absorbed into white narratives as their own. Faustine’s series looks at America’s monuments and how history is celebrated and, she says, “how history is turned around. What is left out, what is included, what are the lies. And, who gets celebrated.”
The “My Country” series follows from the photograph Fragment of Evidence, Statue Of Liberty, 2016. There, against a hazy New York sky and murky waters, a black line bisects the famed patinated copper statue that symbolizes American freedom. The black line is, in fact, a window bar on the Staten Island Ferry, intentionally included by Faustine, which, to her, represented the erasure of African American history embedded in America’s most iconic monuments. The image, Faustine says, was taken in the spring of 2016, right before the eventual election of the current U.S. president, and in Faustine’s words: “It was just like a premonition about the election. It spoke to me about freedom, of really grasping perhaps at the last straws of freedom.” In Faustine’s further exploration of the Statue of Liberty as a monument she learned that France’s gift to the United States was a commemoration of the abolishment of slavery— not a totem of immigration and inclusivity, the meaning it is now ascribed. Faustine says this work encapsulates the duality of this series: it’s not just a confrontation of “what statues represent in America,” but “this hidden life and history of African involvement.”
Faustine’s work isn’t a mere reductionist political statement, a protest to the past. Many American monuments and commemorative statues lionize historical figures who’ve committed atrocities against their own people, especially their fellow citizens of color. Faustine’s work asks instead to expose the real events and reinsert those truths into the narratives that comprise American history.
In the work In Praise of Famous Men No More, Museum of Natural History, is depicted the statue of Teddy Roosevelt outside New York’s American Museum of Natural History, where the infamous Rough Rider on horseback is flanked by both an African man and an Indigenous chief. Through her camera Faustine slashes the scene with a thick red line. That statue was vandalized as part of the “Decolonize This Place” protests, which partially inspired Faustine, but partially tripped her. “I go back and forth. Even as a descendent of enslaved people. It is very hard, because this stuff has been ingrained in us. We have been taught to think a certain way about our country and our presidents. But when I look at the statue, it does bother me that they are below him.”