Netsanet Negussie is an emerging young artist exploring social justice and racial equity themes through the lens of her camera. On the streets of Minneapolis, Negussie has found compelling subjects that depict impactful, human narratives not seen in the day-to-day media coverage of the city. She shared her art, her inspirations and her process with the Daily Planet.
Your medium of expression: Street/Documentary Photography. As a photographer, I also appreciate conceptual photography, so I have been exercising my ideas in this field lately. I’m also interested in documentary film production and currently learning basic skills in filming and the business of film production.
Why do you like this particular form to express myself? I believe that visual narratives are impactful. Image storytelling not only has the potential to stir your emotions but to also facilitate dialogue that promotes the human connection. I am most interested in raising awareness and reinforcing dialogue about social issues through personal narratives.
How long have you been working this medium? Good question! Literally, a few months ago. I am not academically trained in this mode of creative expression. In fact, I graduated from university with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and minor in philosophy.
It wasn’t until August of 2015 when I decided to grab my camera and utilize its power to share stories. My moment of action really came from my personal growth of owning my narrative and listening to others’ who are fearless to share their stories.
How do you decide who/what you’ll fix your lens on? First, whether I’m on the street or as intimate as someone’s home, I listen to their stories first. In street photography in particular, the “sport” is about capturing “the moment.” I believe street photographers like Henry Cartier Bresson really fundamentalized this as the core of street photography. I, most of the time, disagree with this. I relate with the people I meet, listening to their stories. I then ask if I could make a portrait of them. If they say no, I don’t proceed with the image-making. If they say “yes,” then I try to capture what is aligned with their truth.
How do you see your work moving social justice onward? I believe that, as a visual artist, my work can help foster dialogue about social issues. My hope is to bring communities together and to use my work as a platform for them to discuss pressing issues that is going on in our surroundings.
Currently, I am a housing organizer and advocate. As an organizer, I help provide information that shows what individuals can do to save their homes, specifically to form resident associations. As I serve as an advocate, I collaborate with inspiring people who are determined and empowered to organizer their community and prevent the loss of affordable housing.
Each image is unique yet intrinsically linked as it shows both the struggle and accomplishments of tenants who strive to save the only home they know. I see the impact of my work as a collection of visual narratives to show how important we all must contribute to preserve affordable housing as access to quality, affordable housing is a basic human right. Historically vulnerable communities are negatively impacted by the loss of federally subsidized housing due to the increasing threats of gentrification we see right here in Minneapolis!My intent with these images is to share the voice of communities that are impacted by new luxury development deals; to demonstrate the relevance of this issue to community members; to foster dialogue within the community about housing issues; and to encourage community action to preserve affordable housing in solidarity with advocates, city planners and developers, and local leaders.
Why is your exhibit needed at this time? My current showcase at the Center for Changing Lives is to show who Minneapolis is about. People of color in Minnesota are often not recognized for their contributions. From my experience in the arts thus far, I’ve noticed that artwork does not reflect the community. So, I believe what I have in common with Fatuma (my fellow exhibit artist) is that we want to have a space for communities that are often unrecognized, underappreciated and marginalized to celebrate who they are. One of the images installed is a photo of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Representative Keith Ellison. I took that photo from a HUD meeting that took place in November at the Mayflower Church. In Minneapolis, we have a huge housing problem. Communities of color, refugees and low-income families are constantly being pushed away and out of their spaces just to make room for a new demographic to come in — a demographic that is whiter and comes from a higher income bracket. I intentionally wanted that image to be shown because Minneapolis has a big problem of gentrification. We are the fastest gentrified city in the nation, thanks to our current policies that enable segregation. Anyway, there are thousands of people who visit Center for Changing Lives here in Minneapolis. I want to make their experience impactful by fostering dialogue from viewing my work.
Who inspires you? Photographers and filmmakers who inspire me include photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier (her work is ‘The Notion of Family’), documentary/narrative filmmaker Zeresenay Berhane Mehari (director and producer, ‘Difret’), Sharmeen Obaid- Chinoy (Emmy award winning documentary filmmaker and producer), Wing Young Huie, Carrie Mae Weems and local artists of color. I am humbled, and I continue to learn from those who are not afraid to share their narrative, their truth.
But, the people who inspire me most are my loved ones. My family. They teach me to live life with intention. My mother and brother bought my first camera. They thought photography was a hobby of mine. I see it as more than just a hobby. My closest friends who motivate me to be my truest and best self. They have been there for me at my low and encourage me rise and confront my fears. As much as I rely on them for support at my lowest, they are more excited than me when I achieve and succeed my goals! I love them dearly!
And, I am also inspired by everyday people I meet on the streets who enable me to see the world and appreciate the subtle beauties this world has to offer!
Where can people check out your work? Readers can check out my work by visiting my site at, www.netsanetfoto.com. I’m also on instagram at, Netsanet_Negussie. I also have twitter, but I hardly ever use it.
As far as exhibits go, readers can tag along with loved ones to check out a two-person exhibition currently installed at the Center for Changing Lives. I and Fatuma Mohamud have our work featured for a month there.
On Jan. 16, I have a group exhibit to show at the Third Place Gallery. This exhibit is an opportunity for me to share some of my documentary photography project, “Saving Section 8”. This exhibit also features talented artists/ photographers. The work will be up for a full month until Feb. 16.
I am also featuring my work at the United Theological Seminary Art Gallery as part of the series, “Faith [In] Action”, an exhibition (partnered with Intermedia Arts and Obsidian Arts) that reinforces dialogue of the involvement and impact religious leaders have on the community about social issues and causes spearheaded by the Black Lives Matter- Minneapolis movement.
I will also have the chance to share more of my work, “Saving Section 8” at the Gordon Parks Gallery in St. Paul later this year.
An exhibit showing much later in 2016 will also take place. I got an email from a representative of the Africa Center in New York City about interests to showcase some of my work as a group exhibition. I literally found this out last week, with more details to follow in the coming months.