The Lovers: A Conversation With Larry Cook and Nakeya Brown

In this new series, The Lovers, Elephant seeks to investigate the intricacies of two artistic lives intertwined. We wanted to ask artist couples about their relationships with each other and their individual practices; how do professional artists support each other in both their careers and their personal lives? How do they maintain a balance between their domestic life and their practices? And most importantly, how do they inspire each other? Lovers and artists Nakeya Brown and Larry Cook sit down to answer a few questions about their independent art practices as well as their collaborative life together. 

Nakeya Brown (b. 1988) is an American conceptual photographer known for her interpretation of the politics of Black hair. Brown examines how Black hair relates to culture and identity, using photography to extract and redefine symbols of femininity. Her practice centers Black female subjectivity and black beauty; hair is used as an apparatus to identify facets of womanhood. Larry Cook (b. 1986) is a Washington, D.C. based artist working across photography, video and installation. Cook’s work explores themes of identity, community, and history – relating these themes to the Black American experience. 

Please tell us a bit about yourselves.
N: I’m Nakeya Brown (she/her), mother of two, wife to Larry, and educator. L: I am a husband, father, professor, and artist based in D.C.

What is your creative discipline and/or connection to the art world?
N: My creative discipline is photography.
L: I am an interdisciplinary artist working in photography, video, and mixed media.

How did you meet?
N: We first met at George Washington University when Larry called into my Professional Practice class on Google Hangout as a guest speaker.

How long have you been together?
L: We’ve been together since the summer of 2016, and we married in the summer of 2017. That makes six years.

How does your creative practice influence your relationship?
N: My creative practice centers many ideas, including how beauty is multifaceted. Our relationship really encompasses that, in that we love each other from the inside out; we make room for one another to be our true selves.
L: Having a creative practice makes me more aware and helps me understand the time and space that Nakeya needs to be creative amongst all her other duties as a mom, wife, and educator. 

How does your relationship influence your creative practice?
N: Sometimes, we get to collaborate. In 2017, we were offered the Augusta Savage and Norman Lewis residency. We spent a month in Martha’s Vineyard and focused on our only collaborative work there.

How do you navigate work-life balance?
N: We do a lot of practical things, such as keeping a calendar and talking about our weekly schedules to stay informed. When possible, we include each other, our children, or even our families in travel plans to help our work life feel more balanced.

What is one of your most meaningful experiences in recent years?
L: Recently, we travelled to New Orleans and spent time with photographers Chandra McCormick and Keith Calhoun, who are also married. It was memorable to be in the company of such influential photographers.
N: Travelling to London last winter was significant because it was our first time in Europe. I was presenting work at Green Grassi. Larry and I connected with some of my family across the seas, ate well, took in some art, and danced! It was magical.

Where are you being photographed today?
L: In Shenandoah, Virginia. It’s one of our favourite places.

Who are you being photographed by?
N: Our daughter Mimi!

Words by Gwyneth Giller