High Museum of Art opens first museum survey for Deana Lawson
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High Museum of Art opens first museum survey for Deana Lawson
Deana Lawson (American, born 1979), Hair Advertisement, 2005, pigment print, courtesy of the artist; Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York; and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles. © Deana Lawson.

ATLANTA, GA.- This fall, the High Museum of Art presents the first museum survey dedicated to Deana Lawson, who is known for investigating and challenging conventional representations of Black identities and bodies through her photographs. Co-organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art / Boston and MoMA PS1, “Deana Lawson” (Oct. 7, 2022-Feb. 19, 2023) features nearly 60 works made over the past two decades that evoke a range of histories and photographic styles, including family albums, studio portraiture and staged tableaux, and employ documentary pictures and appropriated images.

“Lawson’s works, which are complex not only in their composition but also in the emotions they evoke, challenge us to think critically about Black representation and confront our perceptions of Black identity,” said Rand Suffolk, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director of the High. “Her photographs open important dialogues, and we look forward to bringing them to Atlanta and sharing them with our audience.”

In Lawson’s highly staged tableaux, individuals, couples and families are pictured in intimate domestic spaces and public settings. As they depict these intimate scenes, they also channel broader ideas about individual and social histories, sexuality and spiritual beliefs. Lawson’s practice is global in scope, as she creates her images throughout the African diaspora in locations as varied as Brooklyn, Haiti, Jamaica, Ethiopia, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Southern United States. This broad geographical range points to the artist’s interest in a collective memory of shared experiences and various cultural histories of the past.

Lawson also uses photography to challenge assumptions about the facts the medium purports to deliver. She carefully composes each scene but does not always disclose details about how she has created them, or even where the photographs were taken. In some cases, she works with found images that depict people she does not know. Her tableaux tend to be composed of people she encounters on her travels rather than family, friends or acquaintances. Despite what certain pictures may suggest, some of the artist’s subjects may not have met before the shoot.

“Lawson is a singular voice in contemporary photography who causes us to question our assumptions about the medium’s relationship to the real,” said Gregory Harris, the High’s Donald and Marilyn Keough Family curator of photography. “Though her photographs appear to be drawn from the happenstance of everyday life, they are rigorously orchestrated portals to a world of Deana’s creation that nevertheless offers deep insight into the lived experience of people across the diaspora.”

The exhibition is arranged chronologically according to when the photographs were created, with themes of familial bonds, the female figure and the allure of popular media images recurring throughout.

“Deana Lawson” is presented in the Lucinda Weil Bunnen Photography Galleries and adjacent galleries on the lower level of the High’s Wieland Pavilion.

Deana Lawson (American, born 1979) lives and works in New York and Los Angeles. She received her B.F.A. from Pennsylvania State University (2001) and her M.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design (2004). She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (2013), an Aaron Siskind Foundation Fellowship Grant (2008-2009), and a New York Foundation for the Arts Grant (2006), among others. In 2020, she was selected for the Hugo Boss Prize, the first photographer to receive the award in recognition of achievement in contemporary art. She is also the inaugural Dorothy Krauklis ’78 Professor of Visual Arts at Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts.

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