what's in your toolbox

What’s In Your Toolbox: Naima Green

by Annie Werbler

What's In Your Toolbox: Naima Green, on Design*Sponge

Staying true to the original intentions of a project or body of work does not always come easily. Naima Green, a Brooklyn-based artist, arts educator, and photographer, refuses to compromise her creative output “for likes or followers or fame.” Her Jewels from the Hinterland image series “investigates questions of place, belonging, and perceived cultural identity within the African Diaspora.” She has shot portraits of over 70 artists of color “feeling at ease in natural green spaces, regions where black and brown urbanites are not ‘supposed’ to be at home: our hinterlands.” This effort helps Naima process her own place in the world, and gives her purpose. Above all things and motivations, she urges each individual to “make art for yourself.”

Enjoying the more collaborative aspects of setting up home and studio, Naima shops with purpose, talking with artisans and sellers about their goods. Not surprisingly, she leans toward handmade or vintage items rather than mass-produced products. “I like objects and clothes with stories and histories,” she says. Her entryway full of antiques was styled with a little help from her (and our) friend Sadatu Dennis, making the decorating process a heightened experience. Her newest collaboration, photographing Annie Novak’s first book, The Rooftop Growing Guide, will reveal Naima’s latest efforts next month. —Annie

Photography by Naima Green

What's In Your Toolbox: Naima Green, on Design*Sponge

What’s in your toolbox?

Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon FM2, two Fujifilm Instax cameras, lots of film, a scanner, my computer, Micron and gel pens, and collage materials — magazines, books, postcards, the works.

What's In Your Toolbox: Naima Green, on Design*Sponge

Fill in the blank, “When I am in my studio, I feel ____________.”

Happy, in love, vulnerable, confident, and productive.

What's In Your Toolbox: Naima Green, on Design*Sponge

What’s on the top shelves of your inspiration library right now?

Last fall, I was in Brazil and stumbled into a bookshop. I found a collection by the Museum of Modern Art in Bahia, MAM- BA (Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia) and Jean Michel Basquiat: Obras Sobre Papeis produced by the Museum of Modern Art Aloísio Magalhães, MAMAM in Recife. The Interaction of Color by Josef Albers has been in my hands a lot, too.

What's In Your Toolbox: Naima Green, on Design*Sponge

How do you keep yourself organized?

Organization is an ongoing process. I cannot function without my planner. I have to write (yes, by hand) everything down or I forget about deadlines, commitments, or sometimes what I did the day before. I am constantly rearranging, getting rid of things, and making space in my studio for new work and ideas. My residence and my creative space are the same; I live with my work, so I have tried to integrate my studio practice into the design of my apartment. Cleaning my space helps me clear my head, so I have to do that before starting a project.

What's In Your Toolbox: Naima Green, on Design*Sponge

If you could have one superhero (or magical) power, what would it be and why?

I would love to be able to fly or just float in space. Being suspended in the atmosphere seems so comforting. Sometimes a hammock does the trick.

What's In Your Toolbox: Naima Green, on Design*Sponge

What is the best advice you have ever received, and what is the one piece of advice you would offer to a young artist, maker, or designer?

I remember reading or hearing something to the effect of: “if you’re not being rejected, you’re not applying to enough opportunities.” When I became more serious about my practice, there was a shift in my behavior, I was more willing to share the work and approach people about participating. The art I make is collaborative; it is meant to be shared and experienced.

The advice I can offer: stay true to your intentions, do not compromise your work for likes or followers or fame. I have been working on my current series, Jewels from the Hinterland, for years because it fulfills, engages, and challenges me. It helps me process my experience and existence. It gives me purpose. Make art for yourself.

What's In Your Toolbox: Naima Green, on Design*Sponge

How do you combat creative blocks?

Going for long walks always helps. I am happiest when I walk five miles or more. A trip to the Brooklyn Museum always leaves me feeling energized. If I do not have time to get outside, tidying or moving to a different material helps; drawing and collage are meditative for me. Sometimes, I go through old film — I love doing that.

What's In Your Toolbox: Naima Green, on Design*Sponge

Where do you like to look or shop for inspiration?

I love flea markets and thrift shops. Melrose Trading Post and Elephant’s Trunk are my two favorites. I rarely buy things that are new. I like objects and clothes with stories and histories. Being able to talk to craftspeople, designers, or collectors is what makes shopping fun.

Online, I love to see what is happening on: Art21, Artsy, Design*Sponge, tumblr, and Instagram.

What's In Your Toolbox: Naima Green, on Design*Sponge

If you could peek inside the studio or toolbox of any artist, maker, designer, or craftsperson, whose would it be and why?

Wangechi Mutu. I respect and admire her artistry so deeply and would love to know what her work processes and organization practices are like. How does she organize materials? Does she color code? Where does it all begin? I would love to live with her work for a few days.

What's In Your Toolbox: Naima Green, on Design*Sponge

What’s on your inspirational playlist at the moment?

  1. Day Mixtape – Poolside
  2. Them Changes – Thundercat
  3. Female Energy – Willow Smith
  4. Special Affair – The Internet
  5. Boondigga– Fat Freddy’s Drop
  6. The Lung – Hiatus Kaiyote
  7. Smoke & Mirrors – TTOKiMONSTA
  8. All Mine – Mecca:83
  9. Two Can Win – J Dilla
  10. Night Mixtape – Poolside

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  • Beautiful photos, and her home/studio is sublime. I really love these features on artists and makers. There are days when seeing another person’s home is not all that interesting, but seeing a person’s art and what motivates them to create is always inspiring.

  • Naima’s story and art really resonate with me. It’s exciting to know that there are other artists out there thinking about race and gender and the environment (and the relationship therein) in new ways. It inspires and challenges my own work. Thank you so much for sharing this here.

  • i would loooove to know who is the artist who made the painting above her sofa on the first picture…!
    thank you for the inspiration :)

  • Naima,
    You are so talented! Thank you for making my day…no…my week!
    Xoxo, Lauren P.

  • I would love to be invited for a tour of Naima’s place to see the art work up close.