Focus on Self-Portraiture: Nydia Blas
Nydia Blas’ photographs are magical, whether she is photographing herself or others. They take me to a place I’ve never been, a place I want to know more about. As I look through all of her bodies of work, I see that she is using a visual vocabulary and metaphorical threads that are uniquely her own. Her work is a tapestry, bringing in elements of history, mythology, lived experience and societal expectations. She questions what it means to be a body, a woman, a mother, a daughter, a lover, specifically seen through a Black lens. She creates her own narrative, one that is intricate and nonlinear, speaking outside of an outdated discourse. I was especially drawn to the project “The Trouble with Being a Mama.” While the photographs are quite varied–a mix of snapshots, polaroids, still life, self-portraits, portraits of her children–they are masterfully edited to show the cycles of relationships that mold our lives. How do our mothers shape us? What do we learn from them of love? How do we in turn shape our own daughters’ lives? Her photographs raise questions, and her self-portraits tell you that the answer is more complicated than you think. I struggle in my own self-portrait work to make projects that are layered and intricate while also being emotional and evocative. Her boldness and creativity inspire me to take more risks.
Nydia Blas is a visual artist who grew up in Ithaca, New York and currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia. She holds a B.S. from Ithaca College, and received her M.F.A. from Syracuse University in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Art and Visual Culture at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. She also works as a freelance photographer for clients such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and The New Yorker.
Nydia has completed artist residencies at Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts and The Center for Photography at Woodstock. Her work has been featured in the book Mfon: A Journal of Women Photographers of the African Diaspora, The Huffington Post, Dazed and Confused Magazine, Strange Fire Collective, Refinery29, Hyperallergic, PDN, Fotografia Magazine, and more. She is recognized for her body of work entitled, The Girls Who Spun Gold, which is a collection of images that resulted from a Girl Empowerment Group that Blas founded after observing a lack of space and community for teen girls of African descent in Ithaca, New York. In 2019, she was named “One to Watch” by the British Journal of Photography. She was also one of twelve participants for The World Press Photo Foundation’s 26th edition of the 2019 Joop Swart Masterclass. IG: @neeksiebeeks
I delicately weave stories of circumstance and magic—inspired by my lived experience as a girl, adolescence, teenage mother, and woman —and use my work to create a physical and allegorical space presented through a Black feminine lens. It is impossible to do this without exposing the constructs of sexuality, gender, and race that are historically based on pervasive and distorted European standards. It is a slippery slope between acknowledging the way society ignores, limits, and values you and working outside of these confines to create realistic and complicated ways of seeing and looking at oneself that are empowering and propel people forward into new narratives. How do you do this when the very body you reside in is in opposition to what is deemed normal, proper, and worthy of protection? My work destabilizes far outdated but very real constructs by spinning a counter-narrative as visual evidence of alternative spaces created by the subjects themselves—to reclaim their bodies for their own exploration, discovery and understanding.
I am drawn to matters of sexuality and intimacy, working intuitively to create images that have the ability to be both esoteric and resonate with those on the periphery. This instinctiveness is an amalgamation of my lived experience, popular Black culture, film and folklore. The result is an environment imbued with a sense of magical realism that is dependent upon the belief that alchemy takes place in the tangible world. And that in order to navigate often-harsh realities of circumstance and maintain resiliency, a magical outlook is necessary. In this space, props function as extensions of the body, costumes as markers of identity, and gestures/actions reveal the performance, celebration, discovery and confrontation involved in self-definition within pre-existing structures.
The very bodies that we are born into inherently carry histories, stereotypes, and heightened exposure/contact with violence and sometimes grave consequences such as death. Historically photography has been used as a tool to shape and reshape popular discourse, dominant ideology, and beliefs about groups of people over time. There is a need to create new spaces that reflect the complicated ways that we see and understand ourselves. -Nydia Blas
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