Belonging in nature.
Text — Casey Beal
Photos — Naima Green
This is part of the Dossier Black Lives, Green Spaces.
Naima Green asks people to meet her. As an audience, we come to know her through her entrancing portraits of people of colour—artists, activists, community builders—in urban oases of greenery. On the day of their portrait, Green’s subjects are often meeting her for the first time as well, exploring an urban green space together while she decides how to capture their photo: something that unfolds over the course of their getting to know each other outdoors.
Green’s photo series Jewels from the Hinterlands, from which this visual essay was drawn, asks us to think about how people of the African Diaspora are represented in relation to their environment. It investigates perceptions about who belongs in certain spaces. Green says that it’s rare to find positive images of Black and Brown figures in urban green space. Instead, such subjects are often cast as out of place, not really at home. Her soulful images combat these preconceptions subtly, with abstract, verdant compositions that feel at once deeply intimate and aware of the long shadows of history.
She recalls her grandmother building a vegetable garden in a vacant plot of land next to her Philadelphia row house. It became a haven for the surrounding community: a lush space of caretaking, repose, and collective life. As neighbourhoods contend with forces like gentrification and housing insecurity, Green’s work is not only beautiful, it is crucial in recognizing these sites of healing and a kind of urban shinrin-yoku for African-American communities.
Over the last decade, Green has made portraits of over 100 people for this series, in cities like New York, Miami, Oakland, Houston, and Chicago, which bear significant histories of Black migration to the United States.
Naima Green lives between Brooklyn, NY, and Mexico City. The artist and educator’s work is in the collections of MoMA Library; the International Center of Photography Library; Decker Library at MICA; National Gallery of Art; Teachers College, Columbia University; and the Barnard College Library.
Issue 08: Our communities
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