A Ghost Made Flesh: Pamela Sneed on Nona Faustine’s White Shoes

I first became aware of Nona Faustine and her photographs from an article in the Huffington Post around 2015 titled “Artist’s Nude Self Portraits Explore Former Sites of Slavery Throughout New York.” It was in that article I first encountered the photograph From Her Body Came Their Greatest Wealth. It showed Nona’s voluptuous brown Black woman’s body standing naked atop a small wooden box in the middle of the street in Manhattan’s financial district. The photograph appears in daylight presumably morning as a yellow taxi cab drives by. Looking closely there are manacles on the figure’s wrists. She is wearing white pumps.

The photograph clearly comments that the entire area is a former site where slaves were auctioned off. Later, it became a graveyard and burial ground for those same slaves. A Black woman’s nude body on an auction block in the middle of Wall St. is also a direct commentary on how New York’s and much of the United States’ money and economy was built from the bodies of Black people

Horrific, violent, and brutal flesh peddling.

Labor not only forced and extracted from Black men but Black women and children as well labor extracted from the “motherland,” Africa.

The boldness of the photograph and its layered messaging moved me. Like a parishioner who heard the words of a much-needed sermon In the manner of good old-fashioned call and response
Inside, I shouted YES

As a Black Queer woman, a poet, someone whose work also encompasses autobiography and history and works at the place where social commentary and social justice intersect

Who has looked into the faces in photographs of former slave women, those few that were documented and wanted to know more, then breathed their stories into existence

Who has travelled to the former slave sites in Ghana, Benin, and Portugal

Who has heard and documented stories of the atrocities committed against us for centuries but also learned of our great resilience and creativity in the face of destruction

Who knows full well the attempted suppression and erasure of that history

That millions of Black bodies were captured and sold, so much so that parts of Africa were left unpeopled

Who also through lived experiences knows full well the marginalization of Black women and girls

On a daily basis encounters and contemplates the lack of acknowledgments and protections for us

Falling through the cracks in healthcare, education, housing, and the financial sector Inside I shouted YES to the representation in Nona’s photographs
YES to the visibility
YES to the timeliness

Nona’s body standing there feels like a rebuke to all who deny her existence and humanity. As in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, she represents a ghost made flesh.

Excerpt from 'A Ghost Made Flesh' by Pamela Sneed, published in White Shoes by Nona Faustine. 

Join us at Brooklyn Museum on Friday 11 February 2022 to hear Nona Faustine in conversation with Pamela Sneed, as well as other book contritubtors Jessica Lanay and Seph Rodney. More info and tickets here.


30 x 29cm, 72 pages

ISBN 978-1-913620-51-6
October 2021
€50 £45 $60

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