//Still of Nadiya Jackson from the short film Planning a Wedding During Quarantine. Photo provided by Jackson.
Nadiya Jackson’s work, ranging from theater to photography, to even her personal fashion, interrogates if and to what depth we engage with our identities and pleasure across stretches of time.
I first encountered Jackson when witnessing her play, “Zaryn,” which debuted at the Aurora Fox Theater and featured a polyamorous black femme navigating romantic relationships and personal justice. The play was only 15 minutes long but peeled free a dense and delicious story. It delved into what to do when taking up space in multiple romantic relationships—worlds really—and how to keep from losing yourself in the process. As a Black, queer, polyamorous femme, I felt seen, and as a student of intimacy and the erotic, I felt challenged. I was shown what it looks like to honor and take pleasure in being alone, physically and romantically. I saw how to name wanting to be seen without being consumed.
When the photo series “Are We Still Cool?” came out in July 2020, I was excited to see that Jackson was one of the featured photographers. The photos depicted a few male members of Denver’s Black Actors Guild in soft, pastel lighting, pearls and flowers while tenderly embracing one another in pointed, intimate moments. The coverage I encountered of the series delved into the questions the photos posed to society as a whole. After seeing that Jackson was involved, I was more curious about the stories and intentions present in the artistic process. I sat down with Jackson to understand some of those intentions by hearing and understanding her perspective on time and satisfaction.
This Q&A has been edited for concision and clarity.
What is your relationship with time and how does that translate into your art?
The relationship I have with time is complicated. If the conditions were that time was never to be exchanged for bargain-basement paychecks, all of my needs, along with the needs of those around me were met, and in fact, the illusion of 24 hours a day still exists: The amount of art to be poured out from me would be colossal.
For the past two years, I have been collecting footage for a documentary I am making. My father, in the summer of 2019, gave me journals from his adolescence. He wrote a poem on my birthday in 1980 and in the present time, I turned it into a song. I find it to be profoundly playful to translate past inscriptions into music and 24 pictures per second taken, tethered together in ways that are still unknown to me. I enjoy the time it takes to create and develop art projects. I wrote “Zaryn” in 2017, and in February 2020 it was part of a production at 5280 Artist Co-Op. Art and the artist themselves should never be rushed. I will take my time to be with myself and other resources to explore, learn, and challenge.
On the clock, I imagine myself creating art. Stashing a pocket journal for when I have an idea that needs to be recorded and feeling frustrated with myself because I’m missing out on collaborations because my shift doesn’t end until after twilight. My art is sometimes neglected because of a system we have yet to find a way to escape and destroy. Messes sit on desks because I convince myself I’ll work on them later. When later comes, I’m too tired and there is not enough energy to complete projects and also fulfill my basic needs. When I do find the time to create, I celebrate my survival with dances, newly discovered tunes, and I play with new materials like a zealous child.
What about your art gives you pleasure or satisfaction?
There are two ways I get pleasure from my art. Witnessing and being part of its evolution gives me pleasure. During the process of creating, I am asking myself and those who I may be integrating practices with: “Does this work?”, “How do you feel?”, “Can you understand what I am trying to communicate?”, “Do you want me to do it like this or do you like how I did it before?” My art brings me satisfaction simply for the reason that it gives me permission to let myself be open and vulnerable.
In the “Are We Still Cool?” series, what was your artistic intention, and how would you have liked to see it presented?
My intention was to document the men photographed and their unshielded answers to questions pertaining to the idea of “manhood.” I know the media lacks depictions of men of color being emotionally intuitive and strips it away from them. I had intentions to witness these men celebrate the harmony of masculinity and femininity within themselves, feel safe enough to bask and not feel pressured to suppress their excitement from pearls embellishing their faces. I sincerely feel depleted by the presentation of “Are We Still Cool?” Any and all of the media coverage should’ve solely been about these men and their stories.
When you turn on the television or any sort of outlet that exposes you to the media, what is the first thing that you see when it comes to men of color? Nine times out of ten, it’s just objectifying them and their bodies and ignoring their emotional state of being and the kinds of complex relationships created within their own communities. I wanted this project to be something that changes the status quo with men of color. I wanted something out in the public where men of color’s vulnerability and femininity are celebrated.
The viewers should’ve been given insight on which photos were taken by which photographer— Michael Board II or myself. It would’ve been appropriate that the photographers had a say in the naming of photos. The men who were photographed, I would have had their voices amplified and heard on Colorado Public Radio. I wonder what “Are We Still Cool?” would have blossomed into, had everyone been more forthcoming with their intentions and all aspects of the project were shared. The pandemic brought major setbacks to the project, but it does not excuse the amount of negligence involved in executing the project.
Your work seems to bring nuance to representation for Black folks, whether that’s Black femmes in polyamorous relationships and various occupations, or Black men embracing intimate and femme moments. Is that intentional, and if so, where does that come from?
It was intentional! I’ve always been fascinated with how Black people navigate experiences dealing with sexuality and intimacy. It’s never a cookie-cutter experience with anyone and I hope my work provides insight into just a few of the numberless occurrences.