Afrovisualism Feature — Nay Jones
Bio: My name is Nay Jones and I’m a visual artist of sorts that focuses on black existence through an afro-surrealist/futurist lens. I paint, write, and film. I mix all of the various mediums however my primary medium is film.
I’m mostly a documentarian.
Simply put, I just try to capture black people existing on camera. It’s hard though because you literally can’t make this shit up. The experiences that black people have are unique and it’s hard to put any sort of words to them.
So I use film to at least try and give a visual to the feelings that we somehow all share. A lot of the ideology present in my work is inspired by people like Arthur Jafa, Kahlil Joseph, Solange, Terence Nance, Spike Lee, Ava Duvernay, James Baldwin, etc.
This list goes on and on but it’s primarily shaped by those who’ve made leaps and bounds in the realm of the Black Aesthetic. I’m deeply interested in capturing black people on camera outside of the context of the white gaze. Filming documentaries about black people is interesting just because film and visuals have the capacity to be used against us in a violent way. For instance, think about an evening on the news circuit or the characterization of black people in popular films. The visuals that the world promotes of black people are often internally meant to keep us oppressed in some way. My mission is to change this narrative by making all forms of blackness more visible.
AV: Can you talk about your Dark Matter Project, what it means to you and what you hope to achieve with it?
NJ: Dark Matter’s formal title is “Dark Matter: A Docuseries on the Inner Die-alogue of the Black Mind”. It’s a documentary-series that explores the mental health of black young adults.
Dark Matter focuses on the power of practicing vulnerability and the joy and freedom that is the direct result of it. It isn’t so much interested in listening to people's woes more so than listening to how they grew from them or are just managing.
There are no medical professionals or anything like that simply for the reason that I, much like most people, am not a medical professional. Professionals add pressure and it’s hard to be vulnerable under pressure. It’s meant to have the special intimacy level of just hitting it off with a person that you met on a park bench. It’s just people freely talking about their experiences.
Dark Matter is also my baby. It’s a love child of all of my severe mental health
experiences. I hope that it gives black people a comfortable space to just be, flaws and all. I just want to give black people the space to share as much or as little as they want.
AV: What was the inspiration behind your set design, the parts when you are sitting, standing, and walking around outside?
NJ: The set can be broken down into 3 separate parts: the chairs, white sheet, and the mirror. I’ve always had a weird thing with chairs based on this idea that if you don’t push your chair in, you’re inviting someone else to sit there. It’s supposed to be like a spiritual calling. It’s my way of inviting people to come and sit. That’s why there are always multiple chairs.
The white sheet symbolizes movement or a lack thereof. Most importantly the mirror represents this idea of reflection. Whether it be that you’re reflecting on something that has occurred in your life or your literal reflection in a mirror.
Dark Matter is a reflective show in the sense that viewers are bound to think about their own experiences with mental health as they’re listening to those being interviewed. Through these reflections, we find community as we see ourselves in those being interviewed and therefore, looking at your own reflection. The mirrors are mostly present to create a sense of oneness.
Sitting and standing represent stagnancy. Also, most times, walking around is meant to be a metaphor for contemplation and revelation. However, the meaning of movement in the series changes often.
AV: The music you chose flows well in each scene. Can you discuss why you chose certain songs?
NJ: Thank you! Music is really important to me. Every song in Dark Matter has a meaning. I try to relate the music in each episode to the theme of the episode. For instance, in “Janay on Cycles”, the songs featured include Excursions by A Tribe Called Quest, Institutionalized by Kendrick Lamar, and Biking by Frank Ocean. All of these songs center repetitive cycles even though they all do it in very different ways.
AV: You have an eye for setting up shots, especially the one with you and your painting in your first episode of Self Poor Traits called Mania. What inspired that scene and the painting you created?
NJ: Thank you again. All of the “Mania” episode of Self Poor Traits is inspired by my own experiences with manic episodes. More specifically it’s supposed to subtly simulate how you slip into a fully ramped up episode and slip out just as quickly (or sometimes not quickly depending on your situation).
As the episode progresses, the chairs shift more and more. And most importantly, a third chair is revealed then ultimately concealed under the white sheet in the final scene of the episode.
Self Poor Traits is about facing all of the things about yourself that you’re uncomfortable with. That’s what’s happening in this scene. The main character (represented by me/whoever) is made to come face to face with the issue — being physically manifested as the painting — at hand.
AV: Your project opens up discussions about mental health in the black community, what made you want to tell your story and give others a platform to tell their stories?
NJ: I wanted to tell my story because I just had a kind of rough experience and it’s an experience that people are often quiet about. And quite honestly, I’m one of those people who completely overshares so I figured that I’d put it to some good use. It was hard, but I figured that if just telling my story gives someone else the courage to even start to think about sharing theirs, then I’ve done my job. We can’t have this silence anymore.
AV: Your style of filmmaking is reminiscent of Afro-Surrealist films, for example like how you break the traditional narrative with images and sounds within your storytelling. I actually discovered your page from the afro-surrealism hashtag on IG. How would you describe Afro-Surrealism and its presence in your work?
NJ: I got into Afro-Surrealism one day when I was just watching this documentary about Salvador Dali and surrealism. I’ve been into surrealism for some time but when I was watching the documentary it just kind of hit me that I didn’t know anything about surrealism in the context of blackness or at the very least I didn’t have any terminology surrounding it. When I started researching it, I realized that I’d kind of always been into Afro-Surrealism and I just didn’t know what it was. I’m still learning more and more every day about what Afro-Surrealism really is and just how deep it goes as a philosophy.
Currently, the best way that I can describe Afro-Surrealism is the study
of the phenomenon that is black presence. This idea of black presence is what my work is rooted in. Moreover, it’s the most important distinction separating my work from the realm of Afro-Futurism. I focus on the present because the past is gone and the future doesn’t really exist. The future is entirely based on everything that I do in the present. So all I have is now.
AV: How did you get into documentary filmmaking and performance art?
NJ: What really sparked my love for documentary films was Orson Welles F is for Fake. It’s an entire documentary about fraudulence which is the antithesis of documentary as a genre. My mind was honestly blown. I won’t spoil it or anything. It’s a highly recommended watch. It just spiraled me into new thoughts about how life imitates art and vice versa. It also really gave a new meaning to the phrase “you can’t make this s*** up” for me.
Documentary film is so beautiful to me just because it contains a realness that narrative film will never be able to capture. I like performance art because it also emphasizes the idea of being present. Currently, all of my performance art is on camera and archived on my Instagram but in the future, I actually don’t want to record any of it. I just want to perform in camera-free spaces so that it can really emphasize that you had to be there to see it. I don’t mean that in a capitalist “be there or be square/FOMO” way, but more so I mean it in a shared human experience way. There’s something special about experiences that only a select few get to feel and bond over while being present together.
I know that it’s a little weird because my primary mediums of art both welcome and cast out the power of the camera but I feel like both experiences are necessary.
AV: How does your work enhance the black aesthetic and challenge the visibility of narratives we see on blackness?
NJ: I think that my work enhances the black aesthetic because of its deliberate use of stillness. I often try to incorporate shots of people just pausing and thinking for a second as opposed to being fully on the go. Black people deserve to take a second and breathe man. If you’re not breathing, you’re dead.
AV: What do you do for fun?
I do pretty normal things for fun. I like to go to concerts and I frequent the movies whether it be alone or with friends. I also really enjoy just binging videos on various platforms because there’s a lot of information out there.
AV: Who inspires you?
My family and friends are my largest inspiration. I really do everything for them. Their stories are important, and it took a long time, but they finally convinced me that mine is too. I wouldn’t have anything if it wasn’t for them.
AV: What music have you been listening to recently?
I listen to everything. My music taste really shifts depending on my mood. Some albums that I’ve been listening to lately are the Euphoria score by Labrinth, An Open Letter by Nicotine, and The Beauty of Everything Pt. 2 by Alex Isley. I’ve also been listening to the Queen and Slim playlist a lot (super excited for the movie).
I always revisit Solange’s When I Get Home and Blood Orange’s Negro Swan. I’m currently patiently awaiting new projects from FKA Twigs and Jhene Aiko. And I’d say that my current top three favorite songs are Home With You by FKA Twigs, Every Void by April + VISTA, and BITE ME by Kilo Kish.
AV: What books do you like?
I don’t read much fiction which is something I’m trying to change. I think it’s important to read fiction because it helps keep the imagination alive. In active attempts to change that, I’m currently reading Octavia Butler’s Fledgling and I’m really enjoying it.
Usually, I read nonfiction. I’m also currently reading James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son. My all-time favorite book is All About Love by bell hooks. It literally transformed my views on everything in the world. I try to do everything from a space of love because of that book.
AV: In a few years from now, what do you envision yourself doing?
I see my work as a form of research so I’d like to continue developing ideas about blackness and existence for as long as I can. In a few years from now, I see myself in grad school for film. I’m not sure where yet, but I know that it’s my next step. As far as content goes, I want to break into the realm of contemporary art.
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You can also stream Dark Matter on HUeMan TV.