LaToya Ruby Frazier, recipient of the 2013 Seattle Art Museum
Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize, investigates issues of propaganda, politics, and the importance of subjectivity with an emphasis on postmodern conditions, class, and capitalism in her new solo exhibition: LaToya Ruby Frazier: Born By a River. Opened at SAM on December 13, 2013, the show runs through June 22, 2014.
In 1963 R&B singer-songwriter Sam Cooke recorded, A Change Is Gonna Come. This heartfelt song became an anthem for the 1960s' American Civil Rights Movement. The title of this installation is borrowed from the opening lyrics of this powerful song.
Frazier is a photographer and media artist whose practice is informed by late 19th- and early 20th-century modes of representation. Her recent installation, A Haunted Capital at the Brooklyn Museum (March 22 - August 11, 2013) featured approximately 40 photographs highlighting the effects of deindustrialization on Fraziers home town of Braddock, Pennsylvania.
Frazier's work is an intimate look at her family, connecting their experiences to the history of her hometown, and its drastic decline from one of Americas first steel mill towns to the "distressed municipality" it is today.
A New York Times review by Karen Rosenberg earlier this year of A Haunted Capital describes her installation as "simultaneously introspective and extroverted, its composed of arresting black-and-white photographs that sometimes look like studio portraits or social documentaries but arent fully at home in either category."
In 1982, Frazier was born next to the Monongahela River in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Like Gordon Parks, Dorothea Lange, and other social documentary photographers, Frazier uses the camera to call attention to complex and challenging conditions. The exhibition includes photographs from two ever-growing bodies of work- those taken at the street level (The Notion of Family) and those taken from the sky above Braddock.
Frazier was inspired by an essay written by noted scholar W.E.B. DuBois about his life growing up next to a river. She chartered a helicopter and photographed her community aerially, providing a dramatically different vantage point by which to view the community she called home.
Braddock, Pennsylvania is located nine miles outside of Pittsburgh. It is home to industrialist Andrew Carnegies first steel mill, the Edgar Thomson Works, which is his last functioning mill in the Mon Valley region.
"Andrew Carnegies nineteenth-century steel mill, railroads and bridges dissect and erode the waters. One night the river flooded. Crossing through miles of man-made manufactures, contaminated soils and debris, it filled the basement and soaked the floors of my childhood home on Washington Avenue," said Frazier. "Historically known as The Bottom, growing up there has made me realize that, if 70 percent of the world is covered with water and more than 50 percent of our bodies are comprised of water, then the properties found in waters that surround our artificial environments reflect not only a physical condition but, a spiritual condition in which we exist. Through a series of aerial photographs of the Mon-Valley-Braddock region, I came to know that DuBois words resonate with the current environmental crisis along the Monongahela River in Braddock, Pennsylvania."
LaToya Ruby Frazier: Born By a River is curated by Sandra Jackson-Dumont, SAMs Kayla Skinner Deputy Director of Education and Public Programs and Adjunct Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.
"Each time I curate the solo show with the artist receiving this prize, I am reminded of the generosity and strategic thinking of Gwendolyn Knight," said Jackson-Dumont.
Frazier lives and works between New Jersey, New York City and Braddock PA. She is Associate Curator for the Mason Gross Galleries at Rutgers University, where she has also taught photography in the Mason Gross School of the Arts. In 2012 Frazier was appointed critic in photography at Yale University. Her work has been shown in museums and galleries including the Whitney Museum of American Art: 2012 Whitney Biennial, P.S.1 MoMA 2010 Greater New York, the New Museum of Contemporary Art 2009 triennial Younger Than Jesus, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Living and Dreaming, the Museum of the City of New York, Moveable Feast and at the Andy Warhol Museum Pittsburgh Biennial, Gertrude's /Lot.