Editor’s Note 12/19/20: This story has been updated to reflect the exhibition’s extension through January 9, 2021.
Five years ago, Narkita Gold left a successful public relations position in Nashville, Tennessee, for an opportunity to redefine herself in Denver. Unable to find a job initially and living far from family, Gold began to examine her identity: “I started to ask myself big questions like, Who am I? What’s my purpose here? What does it mean to be me? I wondered if other people like me were asking similar things. So I started asking them.” The resulting photography series, Black in Denver, pairs colorful portraits with interviews about individuality and purpose in the hope of dispelling the racist narrative of Black people existing as a monolith. Before exhibiting her work at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities this month (November 19 to January 9), Gold, 32, spoke with 5280 about her artistic process, the uniqueness of Denver’s Black community, and how this summer’s protests impacted the project.
5280: How did you get into photography?
Narkita Gold: I didn’t study photography. My dad gave me my first camera when I was six or seven. I’ve always had a camera in my hand. Whenever big milestones came around, I always asked for a camera or an album from an artist like the Backstreet Boys—those were the two things I was interested in.
When I pulled up your Instagram page, I was immediately struck by the number of background colors you use for the portraits. Why employ so much variation?
I use a variety of colors to emphasize how varied my subjects’—which include city leaders, business owners, and artists—belief systems and ways of being are. Media has put Black people all in the same box. We sometimes even put ourselves in a box. As far as who gets what color, I often think about skin tone when picking backgrounds. I want there to be a high contrast. But usually I assign people a color before I actually shoot.
What has surprised you about the answers you’ve received from your subjects?
People have a lot of self-awareness. Also, because the [Black] community here is so small, there is a unique opportunity to define yourself. I talk to a lot of people who moved here and thought they knew themselves but are really discovering who they are now. The people who are from here have told me that growing up here meant they didn’t have to fit into this limited scope of what Blackness is.
How did this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests impact the project?
I had considered stopping. I thought I had done what I needed to do. Then Ahmaud Arbery happened. Then Breonna Taylor. Then George Floyd. I didn’t change the work, but different questions came to the forefront. I was upset. I was hurt. I am so over my people being killed. I realize my questions are possibly antidotes to some of the hostility that Black people face—I’m hoping that my questions will reveal to people who have negative assumptions and opinions about Black people that they’re wrong.
In the wake of those protests, your work has been shown at a number of area galleries and was even projected on the Daniels & Fisher Tower downtown throughout July and August. What has it been like to gain more prominence during this time?
The awareness and the attention that this project has received have given me a little bit of anxiety. I’m a shy person. But I understand the importance of this work, and I really want to see change. If I can contribute to some type of change, even if it’s small, I’m here to do that.
The Black Experience
Excerpts from Narkita Gold’s Black in Denver.
“To be me in Denver is to constantly be reminded of how different I am and to celebrate that…Denver is interesting because it took me being in a space of total whiteness to find my voice and gain the courage to genuinely flaunt my unapologetic Blackness.”
“To me, being Black in Denver means always being aware that I stand out and using it to my advantage. I feel that as long as you’re prepared and motivated, you can achieve anything.”
“For me, being Black in Denver means cultivating inner strength, self-love, and a clear purpose. It means sharing your authentic self with the community around you and the community you create for yourself.”
*Black in Denver did not disclose subjects’ last names.