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Naked Layers

Artists Novel Idea and Kyana Brindle on Black Female Identity


Artists Novel Idea and Kyana Brindle on Black Female Identity


The title of this article was originally called " When and where I enter: the digital visuals of Novel Idea and Kyana Brindle of 1NMedia Salon and was scooped from Paula Giddings’ seminal work When And Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America.  Published in 1984, Giddings shares a historical perspective of how Black women responded to their circumstances - struggling against both racism and sexism from the seventeenth century to the end of the 70’s.   – and finding pockets of success despite the hardship. Conceptually, When and where I enter, is a statement of will.

Novel and Kyana first met in 2003 through a performing artists collective called Smokin' Word.  [Full disclosure: I had met them around this same time.]  They have developed a friendship over the last decade that has now flourished into this collaboration – Naked Layers. Part performance art, part theater this work is reminiscent of artists Coco Fusco or Adrian Piper. Now some folks might find work that’s processing identity reflexive or passé.  Every generation of artists has a plethora of views on this stuff. As a Black chick myself, I appreciate seeing other women grapple. If only to give myself permission to continue to grapple and share; if only to feel less alone. In watching this series, I thought of Michalengo’s David  or Venus de Milo. In fine art, we often see nudes, static staring. Why does the moving image take it to the next level for us? Are we more prude now? Has pornography and reality TV jaded us to individual expressions of nakedness and vulnerability?

I speak to both of them about their process and the process of collaboration.

Describe yourselves as creatives. What is your artistic form? What do you enjoy doing? What are you afraid of doing?

Novel: That's a hard question because I don't like to limit or put myself in a box. Right now I would have to say I'm a filmmaker or media creative. I enjoy creating visuals that tell a story. This could be with digital photography or shooting a film/video. I also play around with identity stuff: logos, websites stuff like that. And I write a bit and this has many ways of manifesting. See? It's hard for me to identify one way that I create. I guess it's easiest to just say I'm creative. (Smile)

What kind of pieces are you writing?

Novel: I'm working on two film scripts, Life as Becky, which is about an adolescent black girl who grew up in a white neighborhood. It's basically her search for identity. And Runner, which is about a black man's journey back to his daughter’s life...sort of.  I have a book I haven't touched in a bit that I would love to finish called BullDaggah.

By not limiting your creative work, is this liberating or frustrating? Do you feel like you could accomplish more if you stuck to one art form?

Novel:  It’s both liberating and frustrating. Maybe I would [accomplish more] but then that's not who I am. Sometimes, for me anyway, what I want to say doesn't always fit in the form that is convenient. So it pushes me to explore other forms. Sometimes it just comes to me in a different form so I have to honor what it wants. As far as accomplishing more, if you mean success, well that's another topic for another time.

Kyana: I identify primarily as a performer and writer. For me that can encompass the many things I do as a writer, actor, singer, and all-around creative person. I love to express and explore creative energy through movement and sound.  I also see myself as a facilitator of the creative process. I love to sing. Singing is my greatest love and also my greatest fear, as it is my most primal form of expression. I would love to sing more and collaborate with other singers and musicians, and have done a little of that here and there, but it still scares me to move fully toward that dream.

What was the inspiration behind 1NMedia Salon?  What has been the greatest challenge? What do you hope to accomplish?

Novel:As far as inspiration for 1NMediaSalon, I would have to say the artist’s process has been the biggest. I have always worked with other artists in collaboration so I think I wanted to create a platform that would be about that. This is why our motto is Get 1N.  It's about the act of collaboration, a signal, you know? Kyana clued me in on the ‘salon’ part some years ago when she assessed that many artists had come through my space to create and incubate and even exhibit. And the ‘media’ part is mainly the form. As far as challenge? The biggest one for me is just getting folks to say 1N and not N1 (smile ). I hope to accomplish good art.

What was the concept behind Naked Layers and why?

Kyana: Naked Layers came out of an idea Novel and I had for some "tasteful nudes" we wanted to put on the 1NMediaSalon website. As we further explored the idea, all of these feelings and worries came up for me around being photographed naked, and I realized that that was where all of the energy was. We decided to create a film project around some of the themes and issues about nudity and nakedness, and it's just evolved from there. I felt like sharing my exploration of all this body stuff could open up a conversation and experience for all of us, and that seemed important to try.

Describe your process of working together?  What really worked?  What did you have to let go of for yourself?

Novel: As far as process with Kyana, well I think it's just about communication. We bounce stuff off each other, try stuff out and if it works it works. If it doesn't we talk about why. Our process is very organic. In the case of our Naked Layers project, it's about getting to truth so we kinda have to get out of the way of ourselves.

Kyana:This is my first time working with film and it's been an interesting process. I am more used to performance, where you have an idea and you get up and do it - you can see an immediate result of that. Film is a very different process, a totally different animal from theater and performance, and it's been challenging for me. The wonderful thing is that Novel and I communicate really well. There is a lot of trust between us and that definitely helps, not only in sharing my ideas but also in actually getting naked for these film pieces. Novel and I talk through our ideas and also share our feelings about what comes up. There is a mutual appreciation for the roles we both play and for how vulnerable we both feel in doing this project. I also really respect Novel's skill and vision as a filmmaker, and we've learned to give and take constructive criticism from each other. I am used to being more in control of the creative projects that I do, and Novel understands when that rears its head while also gently letting me know when I'm being a pain in the ass and need to relinquish my grip a bit. We work really well together.

When I watched Naked Layers I felt is was very direct and honest but thoughtful.  Not like Reality TV "honesty" but not particularly innocent either.  What do you hope viewers receive from the piece?

Novel: First off thank you T for seeing that! I guess with any piece I create I want or hope that it resonates, and that it rings truthful. Particularly with this piece though because its so or I should say it feels a bit dangerous. And yes ,you're right, it's not innocent. We are aiming for truthful reality. Please call us on it though if it starts to feel contrived. (smile.)

Kyana: I really just want folks to have an experience with it. Whatever it is. I feel like my "stuff" around vulnerability and exposure and my relationship to my body are things that people can connect with in some way, and that may lead someone to explore all of that for themselves and have more love and compassion for themselves. I think it would be great if we could all give ourselves a break.

Kyana, earlier you said that singing is scary for you? Why is singing scary for you? What will you do in terms of process to overcome that fear? Will it be that same that you used to take your clothes off on front of the camera. That is pretty primal in and of itself.

Singing is scary because I feel so exposed when I'm doing it. I would like to make an effort to sing more publicly to overcome that fear. And yes, taking my clothes off is pretty much the epitome of exposure! I hadn't thought about it that way. Hopefully this process with Naked Layers will help me to push past my fears about singing.

Novel, when editing, did you know what you were looking for during the edit? Or did you let the piece reveal itself to you.

Novel: I wish I could say I knew what I was looking for.  Each piece has been different and because of what it is it is the boss of me!  So yes it has definitely revealed itself to me.

Naked Layers: "Getting to truth" pertaining to what? Is it Kyana's truth because she's the subject/object? What truth are you getting at as a director? Or are you getting to her truth?

Novel: Right now it is Kyana's truth but because she is gracious enough to share her process we get to share in it. If I'm doing my job right as a director I think it might just provoke us to ask similar questions and peel off our own layers. Each time Kyana and I go into production and shoot one of these things I feel like I want to throw up. Really. It's hard shit. I love it but it ain't easy. I know in my heart because its not easy we must be on the right track. So in answer perhaps  I'm getting to a truth? Hell I don't know. I just have to keep going and see what happens.

Novel, you mentioned earlier that you hope to accomplish good art, define that.

Novel: I did say 'good' art, didn't I? I guess what I mean by that is honest art. I want to be able to say at the end of the day that this came from a real place of inspiration. I would also hope that my art touches someone or provokes some sort of change.  For the better.  But that can't be pre-determined, right? I just have to take a leap of faith with it all.

Interview by Tanisha Christie

Tanisha Christie is a producing filmmaker/performer and creative strategist. A certified spinning instructor and yoga enthusiast, she loves the beach and her white Specialized road bike.  She’s hard at work on her next documentary project and too many other things. @tanishachristie