Prized Exhibition: LaToya Ruby Frazier at Seattle Art Museum

SEATTLE—Since 2009, the Seattle Art Museum has awarded a biannual prize in the name of the Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) and his wife, Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence (1913-2005), to an early career artist. Last year, photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier was selected and awarded $10,000 to further her practice and an exhibition to showcase her work.

“Born by a River,” her solo exhibition documenting the plight of her family and their failing hometown of Braddock, Pa., is currently on view. The name of the exhibition was inspired by the opening lyrics of the Sam Cooke song “A Change is Gonna Come.” It is a fitting reference, something for which the region is in dire need.

Frazier was born next to the Monongahela River in Braddock, an old steel mill town nine miles outside of Pittsburgh. The artist recalls, that one year the river flooded the town and the water gathered contaminated soil and debris from the manufacturers and flooded their home penetrating the walls and floors. Generations in the town suffer various illnesses and have died from ailments tied to symptoms caused by pollution from the mills. To add insult to injury, the industry has collapsed and jobs have disappeared, devastating Braddock economically.

The exhibit includes photographs from two ongoing bodies of work—images capturing her family and their environs “The Notion of Family” and aerial photographs that document the conditions and fate of the town.

“Born by the River” is on view from Dec. 13, 2013 to June 22, 2014.

All photos by Arts Observer

Clockwise from top left, “Grandma Ruby Braiding JC’s Hair,” 2007; “Grandma Ruby and JC on the PAT Bus,” 2004; “Grandma Ruby, JC and Me Watching Soap Operas,” 2005; “Grandma Ruby and Me,” 2005.

Installation view.

“Grandma’s Ruby’s Porcelain Dolls,” 2006.

Installation view.

“Grandma Ruby Holding Her Babies,” 2003.

From left, “Grandma Ruby’s Refrigerator,” 2007; “Grandma Ruby’s Recliner,” 2009; “Gramp’s Bedroom (227 Holland Avenue),” 2009.

From left, “Gramps’ Feet,” 2002; “Gramps on his Bed,” 2003; “Grandma Ruby on Her Recliner,” 2002; “Grandma Ruby’s Hands,” 2002.

Installation view.

Installation view of aerial photos of Braddock.

Installation view.

The artist’s family home is in the bottom right corner (with the red roof) surrounded by manufacturing plants and related facilities and supplies.

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