Is there a piece that signifies a breakthrough for you?
In 2020 I found out that I was receiving the inaugural New Monuments Commission from The Bass Museum. The work I proposed was called “Your Momma’s Voice in the Back of Your Head”. As an artist who predominantly works in drawing, this sculptural sound piece made space for me to understand how medium is not a connecting thread for my practice. The work was an exercise in collecting memories from the public and representing them in a way that highlights our commonalities. This is something that is consistent in my work across all disciplines. An attention to lived experience, whether my own or shared across communities and a joy in executing a visual language that ties them together.
Within the work, the objects create links between global trade, the trans-Atlantic slave trade routes, and the rise of the social classes in the American Colonies. It notes the economic chain of activities provided by women who purchased these domestic wares to be used by their family. At the same time acting as signs of upward mobility within the social classes in the colonies especially for the growing Mestizo class.
The China Trade and subsequently European companies profited largely by the surge of resources generated by settlers in the Americas and the Caribbean colonies adding economic force to the triangular trade.The cyanotypes depict the bottoms of the porcelain objects in reference to the global trade and its historical transportation of goods by sea. The prints create an image of cargo lost in the Atlantic Ocean. By picturing the bases of various ceramic objects with the cyanotype process, the prints engage the question of identity with the intersection of trade, labor markets, and cultural genocide in the colonial past and present. Moreover, the sensation of looking at sinking cargo activates the viewer’s subjectivity in relation to the men and women who died during the Middle Passage.
Do you have a piece made during a rough patch?
Last year, I experienced an incredible amount of personal loss. Several family members and friends passed away. My cousin, the incredible poet, Kamilah Aisha Moon, passed in September. In her honor I made a work inspired by her poem “Portrait at 34”. To rediscover this poem at the age of 34 in the midst of mourning her loss encouraged me to do what I always assumed we would do while she was on this earth, Collaborate. With the support of O, Miami, I designed a Photo Booth that traveled throughout the month of April producing portraits paired with age specific poems for each participant. Poems were sourced from other poets who knew my cousin looking to pay homage and we also developed a lesson plan based on the poem that was shared with Miami Dade Public schools to inspire poetry submissions from all ages.
Which of your artworks reminds you of your youth or where you’re from?
I think that everything I make has fingerprints that tie back to growing up as a queer black athlete preachers kid from the south.
Video: Najja describing The Huddle is a Prayer Circle
Any specific person who supports you in your practice?
I get a ton of physical, mental and emotional support from my partner GeoVanna Gonzalez. I’m super lucky and grateful to have a partner who is also an artist. I’ve learned a lot from watching and supporting her work. My parents, who are musicians, have also been perfect sounding boards to work through ideas. They understand my practice most intimately.