We are born into bodies inscribed with histories that we do not control, a complex mix of truth and trauma, archetype and stereotype. As we walk the earth at a specific time and place, we are met with expectations and limitations based on the bodies we hold — but the force of our very nature empowers us to reimagine and create new paradigms writ large. This is the magic of Panamanian American artist Nydia Blas, who uses photography, collage, video, and books to render intimate scenes of Black girl bliss.
In her first monograph, Revival (Kris Graves Projects, April 2021), Blas takes us inside her world, a space of exquisite sensitivity where she is free to explore, confront, and celebrate the very essence of body and soul. Using her lived experiences as a girl, woman, and mother, Blas carefully weaves allegorical images of the feminine into majestic tapestries of resilience, resistance, and reclamation through what she describes as a “Black feminine lens”.
Growing up in the predominantly white college town of Ithaca, New York, Blas was introduced to folklore as a child when her Aunt Beverly gifted a copy of Virginia Hamilton’s book The People Could Fly: American Black Folktale. Blas came to understand what matters most is choice. We hold the power to choose our own thoughts and beliefs, and use them to heal the wounds we carry, passed on from one generation to the next.
A Space for Love and Healing
Blas’s grandparents, Leon and Mariam Martin, moved from Harlem to Ithaca a century ago so Mr. Martin could work as a chef for a fraternity at Cornell University. “Photography was a part of my ancestors’ lives and I was lucky enough to grow up in homes filled with photographs of beautiful Black people loving, playing, celebrating and congregating”, Blas told Refinery29. “These images worked to instill the notion that I came from greatness. I find this an immense honor and it’s an integral part of who I am today.”
Understanding the transformative power of art, Blas creates images of beauty, celebration, and pride for Black women and girls to counter the harmful effects of racism that surrounded them throughout their lives. The process of collaboration is integral to her work; Blas takes tremendous care to create a space where her subjects can experience freedom in its purest form, liberating them from the projections of race, gender, and sexuality constantly bombarding them from a young age.
“What I’m trying to do is move in and out: to give access, deny access, confront the viewer, deny the viewer”, Blas told Ain’t Bad. “It’s about creating a world for the subjects to reside that implicates the viewer in some way. That’s dependent upon who you are and what you’re bringing to the work. Are you one of the girls in the images? Do you feel connected? Do you look like the girls in the pictures? Do you feel on the periphery? Does the work not speak to you or include you? I really want people to think about that when they look at the work.”
In Revival, Blas transforms the photograph into a sacred realm, a counter narrative liberated from the oppressive constructs of Western cultural hegemony. In her hands, the photograph becomes a release and a return to a state of being that persists despite all Black girls and women have endured.
By Miss Rosen
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer focusing on art, photography, and culture. Her work has been published in books, magazines, and websites including Time, Vogue, Artsy, Aperture, Dazed, and Vice, among others.
Revival, Nydia Blas
Kris Graves Projects
7 x 9,5 cm