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Newcomb Art Museum opens two exhibitions examining environmental pollution across America
LaToya Ruby Frazier, Shea doing crochet braids in her cousin Andrea’s hair for Andrea’s daughter’s wedding. Gelatin silver print, 2016 / 2017. Edition 2 of 5 + 2 AP. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York / Rome.


NEW ORLEANS, LA.- Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University announced its exhibitions LaToya Ruby Frazier: Flint is Family and The American Dream Denied: The New Orleans Residents of Gordon Plaza Seek Relocation, the latter organized by Tulane’s environmental studies students. On view August 21, 2019 with a scheduled run through December 14, 2019, these two exhibitions explore the lived experiences of communities impacted by pollution, and its concomitant effects on health and environment.

In 2016, artist, activist, and MacArthur genius awardee LaToya Ruby Frazier spent five months living in Flint, Michigan with three generations of women–the poet Shea Cobb, her mother Renee, and daughter Zion–observing their day-to-day lives as they endured one of the most devastating human-made, environmental tragedies in US history: the lead contamination water crisis in their hometown. The artistic result of Frazier’s time there is reflected in the works presented in the exhibition Flint is Family.

“Through photographs, videos, and text I use my artwork as a platform to advocate for others, the oppressed, the disenfranchised,” says Frazier. In Flint is Family Frazier explores at the level of community, the effects of the water crisis in Flint–where black residents make up 54% of the population and 40% of the population lives below the poverty line. “When I encounter an individual or family facing inequality, I create visibility through images and story-telling to expose the violation of their rights.”

By portraying the daily struggles of the Cobb family, Frazier used a tight focus to create a story about the impact of a systemic problem disproportionately affecting marginalized communities. Frazier rejected the voyeuristic photographs that emerged from outside media sources and instead collaborated closely with her subjects through photographs, capturing intimate moments along with the myriad challenges the family faced without access to clean water.

Similarly, in the concurrent exhibition The American Dream Denied: The New Orleans Residents of Gordon Plaza Seek Relocation students from the Critical Visualization and Media Lab (CVML) led by Tulane sociology and environmental studies professor Christopher Oliver, PhD collaborated with New Orleans’ Residents of Gordon Plaza –Shannon Rainey, Lydwina Hurst, Jesse Perkins, Sam Egana, Marilyn Amar, Lionel Youngblood, Sheena Dedmond– and representatives from the New Orleans People’s Assembly to showcase the impact of living among life-threatening pollution with limited access to resources and raise awareness of the environmental crisis facing contemporary Louisianans and New Orleanians. As Rainey describes it, “we feel enslaved in our own homes.”

In 1981, the City of New Orleans utilized funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to build the residential neighborhood Gordon Plaza in the Upper Ninth Ward on top of the Agriculture Street Landfill–a toxic waste dump that serviced the entire city for more than half a century. “What was initially branded as a way for working class Black and African American New Orleanians to access the American Dream of homeownership turned into a nightmare as the residual outcomes of living on top of a landfill began to effect the residents in real and adverse ways – often having deadly conquences for those living there,” says Oliver.

The exhibition – equal parts art show, social history, and critical visualization project – presents, in a myriad of ways, a chronological and visually engaging look at the residents’ fight for a fully funded relocation with an emphasis on the role of women in activism, the effect on day-to-day living, and the frustrations of the “promised” American Dream.

“By hosting the Louisiana premiere of Frazier’s work at the Newcomb Art Museum alongside an in-depth look at the issues facing the residents of Gordon Plaza, we are bringing meaningful, enriching, and transformative exhibitions of socially-engaged art to Tulane and New Orleans,” says Monica Ramirez-Montagut, Newcomb Art Museum Director. “These exhibitions explore the concerns of communities both on and off campus, while recognizing underrepresented communities and the contributions of women to the field. Frazier’s artistic practice centers on the nexus of social justice and cultural change and tells an important story of the American experience that certainly echoes with our own Louisiana environmental crisis as seen in The American Dream Denied. It is our hope that all who visit the museum this fall will engage with the stories told through the art and leave with a renewed understanding of the effects of environmental pollution on marginalized communities.”






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