Deana Lawson

American  •  b. 1979


Deana Lawson’s strikingly intimate photographs examine themes of family, cultural legacy, sexuality, spirituality and employ black aesthetics as the cornerstone of her distinctive oeuvre. Her works draw upon visual traditions such as formal portraiture, social documentary, and personal family albums, expertly recording social narratives of African American day-to-day life in contemporary America.

Lawson’s subjects are often strangers she meets in public spaces, yet she refers to them as “her family”. She arranges her models in domestic settings, paying particular attention to lighting and pose, which the artist utilizes to transform and intensify these intimate spaces. Lawson painstakingly arranges her subjects – a young man holding up a West Side symbol, a mother cradling her crying child, and an elderly woman she met at a corner store with a prosthetic foot – and her environments – lace curtains, plastic couch covers, and peeling wallpaper. She embraces her models’ bodies, their lives, and their collective histories, explaining: “they are displaced kings and queens of the diaspora. There’s something beautiful and powerful that hasn’t been taken away”. 

Lawson was the recipient of the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, affording her the opportunity to practice photography on an international scale. Recently, her large-scale work, Ring Bearer, 2016, was exhibited at the 2017 Whitney Biennial, and earlier this year the artist had her first solo show with Sikkema Jenkins & Co. in New York.

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