Earlier this month, LSTW came across the amazing work of Naima Green, a New York-based artist and photographer. We wanted to know more about her most recent project PUR·SUIT: a deck of playing cards featuring queer womxn, trans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people. The Project, inspired by Catherine Opie original 1995’s Dyke Deck, explores current queerness in all of its forms and colors and represents “a missing data set,” a kaleidoscope of “queer and trans people, of people of color, and of groups that continue to be marginalized.”
A conversation with Naima Green
When did the ideation for this project first start? Why a deck of cards?
It began with Opie’s deck. When I found it at the New York Public Library, I knew I had to do for my contemporary queer community in Brooklyn what she did for her 90s lesbian community in the bay.
Tell us about the Archive, the virtual portion of the Project.
When I first conceptualized the project, I was caught between making an object, indelibly finite, and capturing queer communities, which can expand infinitely throughout space and time. The archive enables the latter, the deck obviously speaks to the former.
Who is involved with you on the Project? How did you pick your collaborators (behind the scene and in front of the camera)?
There are so many people who are helping me bring this project to fruition. Toby Kaufmann is my creative director. Her photographer husband, Nick Ferrari, handed me the keys to his studio space to make the work. I’ve never worked with a team at the beginning of a photo series. It’s always been me playing all the roles: photographer, accountant, marketer, assistant, creative director, etc.
Jessie Levandov designed the set with me and also collected hours of video footage. Jessie worked by my side on many of the shoot days, and in various capacities. She’s a fashion designer who works on SALT with her partner Austin, she designs and makes jewelry for her company Debris, and she’s an NYU trained filmmaker. She also just started a radical femme creative lab called Mala Forever.
Kayla Jones and Caroline Washington started the design work. Caroline signed on to the project very early on and sat through many of my ramblings, which helped me take this huge idea and begin parsing through what it needs. Kayla designed our current logo and card suits! We’re still working on the back face, but the pattern will likely have something to do with vortexes, node graphs, and infinity.
Megan Williams, outreach and reference librarian in the Photographs and Prints Division at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is helping me build the archive and preserve our stories.
Freddie L. Rankin II and Shanique Strodder, two fantastic photographers in their own right, were key studio assistants. Two of my best friends, Arvolyn Hill, and Kalila Hoggard also helped me as assistants and made sure I had meals on very long shoot days. My partner, A, is a conceptual designer – she talks through ideas with me, helps me edit, challenges my thinking, and contributes her strategic thinking and coding to the project. She introduced me to the artist Mimi Onuoha, whom I reference in the Kickstarter language around missing datasets.
If you could express in one word what the Project means to you, what would that word be?
As an artist but also as an educator: Thinking back on your experience navigating the queer world, but also of the experiences of people you have been working with over the years, what advice would you give to your/their younger self today?
Keep doing what you want. I had a lot of freedom and say in my upbringing – some adults at the time would have said too much, but I’m so grateful for the trust my parents had in me and my ability to chart of the course of my life.
About the creative work behind such a Project: How long did it take to piece it all together and before you could call it ready to launch on Kickstarter?
This has been a full-time job since September 2018. It’s a labor of love and it took four to five months of planning, organizing, and shooting to get the Kickstarter launched. I’m still working on post-production and getting all the images ready, and we’re still working on the card back and tuck case design.
Will the deck be available for purchase in Canada, as well as internationally? Any ideas or plans for a sequel?
Yes! Right now, for the Kickstarter campaign, I prioritized US audiences, but the cards will be available for sale online via the website when we release this summer. I will ensure the decks are available in Canada, Mexico, the UK, and Australia – those are all the requests I’ve gotten thus far and I’d like to make them available around the world. I want to scale this project sustainably.
To participate and find out more about the PUR·SUIT PROJECT and campaign, join their Kickstarter page: Click here.
Follow Naima on Instagram @naimagreen for updates on the Project.
By Marjorie Roux