Deana Lawson (b. 1979, Rochester, New York) makes photographs that explore the Black familiar and its relationship to lore, global histories, and mystery traditions. She transforms observational picture-making into a powerful mode of expression, critique, and celebration. Romance and intimacy between subjects, as well as ritual and spirituality appear throughout Lawson’s work, often within the same image. Her photographs emphasize formal approaches to film commonly associated with both Western and African twentieth-century portraiture practices, in addition to appropriation and uses of vernacular imagery. Lawson engages her subjects with intention and intuition alike, in staged situations characterized by the piercing directness of the model’s gaze. With their meticulous mise-en-scènes filled with personal artifacts and decor, these portraits underscore the psychological connections between people and their domestic spaces, fusing biography, symbolism, and cultural observation, and creating expansive images of contemporary personhood.
Deana Lawson is the first artist working in photography to be awarded the prestigious Hugo Boss Prize by the Guggenheim Museum in New York, which presented a solo exhibition of her work at the museum in 2021. Lawson’s first museum survey was presented in 2021 at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, which traveled to MoMA PS1, Queens, New York, and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, in 2022. She has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions at institutions including Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland (2020); Huis Marseille, Amsterdam (2019); The Underground Museum, Los Angeles (2018); Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2018); Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (2017); and Art Institute of Chicago (2015). Her work is in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Lawson lives and works in Los Angeles.
Deana Lawson and Arthur Jafa