Timna Naim wears masks during dance performances not to hide but to celebrate self-identity.
A fourth-year world arts and cultures/dancestudent, Naim has combined dance and ceramics as a vehicle for expressing their self-identity as an Israeli-American genderqueer gay male-bodied individual, they said.
Naim tries to generate conversations about individual identitiesby combining visual arts like clay masks with bodily movement like contemporary dance. Theirinterdisciplinarywork has sparked a chain reaction of artistic creation among Naim’s peers and collaborators,including classmates and professors who have worked with Naim on personal and class projects.
“My recent work has been a lot about how you negotiate your identity when coming into conversation with another individual,” Naim said.
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The initial inspiration behind Naim’s work came after they attended Habonim Dror, a Jewish summer camp, from 2006 to 2012, whichpromoted the importance of social justice issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement, mass imprisonment, environmental awareness and sexual identity. Seminars and shows were led by social activists such as drag queens RuPaul and Sylvia Rivera.
Moved by the values put forth by the camp, Naim internalized the messages and began incorporating ideas of social justice and individuality in their creative works, they said.
“My work is informed by values, but centered around identity,” Naim said.
Channelinga mix of self-identity and upbringing into artistic creations, Naim choreographed and performeda dance that explored the theme of abstract persona portraits during fall 2016 as a personal project. Naim sculpted clay masks to embody alter egos and staged their dance in public between the Broad Art Center and Young Research Library.
Naim wore a white foam mask covering their face; the eyes and mouth of the visage were hollowed out, producing an empty expression.
Naim, clad in a flowing black gown, poured water on themself from a pitcher repeatedly, climbed up stairs on hands and feet, kicked into handstands against a wall and crouched to the floor, occasionally spinning in circles.
“I have a feeling people are different in different contexts and their relationships to people; it seems like a conversation,” Naim said. “I am just trying to capture parts of that and bring those ideas to life.”
Kevin Myers, a visiting faculty member in the ceramics department, said he first met Naim while teaching a ceramics course during fall 2015. The two began tocollaborate creatively during weekly meetings, conversations or brainstorming and doodling sessions. They discussed Naim’s artistic visions of incorporating clay masks into dance performance, Myers said.
“After that first conversation, his support and excitement for my project led to a great collaboration,” Naim said.
A year ago, Naim presented the idea of fusing dance and ceramics in a performance. Myers providedguidance, encouragement and feedback to Naim for the creation of the masks. Myers suggested Naim use foam replicas of the clay molds for their masks, allowing Naim to move freely in their performance with less weight.
Myers and Naim’s collaboration led to the realization of Naim’s on-campus performance in fall 2016, Myers said.
“What they proposed and what they executed was spot on,” Myers said. “There was no deviation from their plan, they stuck with it all the way and that’s what I look for in a student.”
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Myers had never worked with an artist who combined ceramics and dance as Naim did, he said. Myers considers his prime role as an educator to notice and nurture talent, and said Naim instantly stood out as an individual who is driven, with ability to develop a thought fully enough to bring it to life in 3-D form.
“They are an articulate, intelligent individual and exemplary student,” Myers said. “Dance is a difficult area to be successful in, but they have what it takes.”
Naim’s confidence in unapologetically presenting and experimenting with their identity inspired the creative dance process of Bora Yoon, a fourth-year world arts and cultures student. In class, Yoon looks forward to seeing Naimpush the boundariesof what isconsideredperformance art, she said.
Naim’s interdisciplinary melding of dance with ceramics is an unconventional pairing of mediums that Yoon had not witnessed before, she said.
But Naim’s work makes an impact even without extra props like masks, Yoon said. In dance classes on campus,Yoon feels a special connection when dancing in unison with Naim, such as during an improvisational danceclass they took together in 2015. She said she is invigorated by Naim’s energy as a performer.
“We always had a strong sense of eye contact – it was like telepathy,” Yoon said. “There was this natural flow of momentum with their energy and that would work really well for us.”
Naimhopes tounveil the complexities of modes of identity – racial, sexual and cultural – while infusing the values of social activism from their upbringing by means of dance performance with ceramics props, they said.
Naim strives to challenge people’s perceptions and prompt them to refrain from looking at others at face value – to listen before labeling.
“Labels might be useful tools for seeing the world, but they are not realistic in trying to have a deep understanding with a human being,” Naim said. “My project ultimately prompts people to find richness, authenticity and connection in others, as well as soften judgement.”