Community, Corrosion, and the Flint Water Crisis

Shea and Zion at the Badawest Restaurant on Corruna Road (2016–2017)

The Village Voice
January 26, 2018
by Siddhartha Mitter

In early 2016, the photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier spent five months in Flint, Michigan. The city — a deindustrialized shell long past its automotive glory days — was reeling from the water crisis that began two years before, when a state-appointed emergency manager decided to save money by drawing water from the heavily polluted Flint River. The poorly treated water, catastrophically high in lead, made residents severely ill and degraded local pipes. By the time Frazier arrived, Flint had reconnected to the Detroit water system, but the corrosion had left the water suspect, and public trust in government officials was demolished.

In Flint, Frazier embedded with Shea Cobb, a young school bus driver and poet, her daughter Zion, and her mother, Renée. Flint Is Family, the resulting black-and-white portfolio, depicts the water crisis — where just brushing one’s teeth is a resource decision with health and cost implications — from the point of view of this resilient matrilineage. It is the core of Frazier’s vital three-part exhibition at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, in Harlem, and a masterclass in collaborative work based on attention and intimacy. When President Obama came to Flint in May 2016 — the zenith of media attention to the crisis — Frazier was around, but she didn’t go to see him. Instead she visited with Shea’s aunt Denise and uncle Rodney, watching the president’s appearance in the gentle clutter of their family room. In her photograph, Denise and Rodney stand as they watch Obama, onscreen, take a sip of Flint water. They face three-quarters away from Frazier’s lens, leaving us to divine from their posture what they make of the scene.

Two days later, Frazier documented the wedding of Cobb’s niece Nephratiti. “Nobody thinks about water crises in marriage,” Cobb comments in a montage that screens in the show. “You don’t think about lead pipes and poison, all you think about is love and the bride and the groom.” The ceremony, in Frazier’s capture, is a bolt of joy rending the fluorescent tedium of the courthouse setting. She portrays Cobb with Zion and Ms. Renée outside the reception. Though her images also show us protesters in hazmat suits, a home vacated because of contamination, the city of Flint water plant — Frazier rented a helicopter to get aerial views — the experience is rigorously, empathically grounded in the life of this one family.

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Courtesy of: The Village Voice

LaToya Ruby Frazier At Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, NYC

“LaToya Ruby Frazier. Mom and Me on Her Couch. 2010” ©2018 LaToya Ruby Frazier

Forbes Magazine
January 24, 2018
by Clayton Press

Art can be as normal as life, but how lives are lived is infinitely variable, defying definitions of normalcy. The artistic life of LaToya Ruby Frazier has been well documented almost to the point of journalistic recycling. It is difficult to add to the facts and flavors. She began photographing her family at 16, gradually opening her lens to include her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania, population 2,100, an impoverished Rust Belt borough outside of Pittsburgh. […]

While Frazier’s photography is frequently and understandably linked to the work of Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks, it reaches farther precisely because Frazier is both documentarian and committed activist. Few artists choose this path and do it successfully, especially early in their careers. Martha Rosler, for one, has consistently connected life and art as an advocate activist.

Effectively, Frazier’s exhibition is a retrospective in three interrelated parts, but not presented in chronological order. Start in the middle on Floor 2 with The Notion of Family. It is a 13-year photographic document of Frazier in and a part of a three-generation Black matriarchy in Braddock. She is there, front and center with her grandmother and mother, participating in family life. Her black and white analog photographs are rich with everyday banality like a refrigerator plastered with magnets, photos and coloring book pictures and crowned with cereal boxes (Grandma Ruby’s Refrigerator, 2007). There are emotionally drained, yet palpable, portraits like daughter and mother anchoring opposite ends of the living room sofa (Mom and Me on Her Couch, 2010). […]

The exhibition is hardly static. There is an extensive program of art-making workshops, panel discussions and performances. True to her “manifesto,” Frazier is using the gallery space to record history; heighten public health awareness; examine the legacy of Purifoy; discuss the Flint ecological crisis, and entertain with a performance by The Sister Tour.

Gavin Brown’s enterprise, 439 W. 127th Street, New York

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Courtesy of: Forbes Art & Entertainment

Photographs Tell the Stories of Forgotten Americans

LaToya Ruby Frazier, installation view of “A Message in Nestle Water Bottles from Shea Cobb, Amber Hasan, Macana Roxie and LaToya Ruby Frazier at Sussex Drive and West Pierson Road, Flint MI” (2017-18). Photo by Thomas Müller.

January 18, 2018
By Antwaun Sargent

Since the age of 17—when she shot her first photograph, using a 35mm camera, of her mother at a bar in her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania—LaToya Ruby Frazier has been documenting the dignity, hope, and perseverance of working-class black life in the midst of crisis and decline. A new exhibition at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in Harlem weaves together three bodies of work (“The Notion of Family,” “Flint Is Family,” and “A Pilgrimage To Noah Purifoy’s Desert Art Museum”) that engage with pressing social issues—from the fundamental need for clean water, to the way racism can inform economics, the environment, and healthcare. Frazier’s images of the American heartland’s black working class pay witness to deep devastation and tiny, pyrrhic triumphs.

Hanging on the red brick facade of the gallery is a triptych of three large-scale photographs taken last November by the MacArthur “Genius” grant-winning photographer and storyteller. They show a fence standing in a Flint, Michigan, field with three words spelled out in clear white lettering: “WATER IS LIFE.” The billboard-style installation, entitled A Message in Nestle Water Bottles from Shea Cobb, Amber Hasan, Macana Roxie and LaToya Ruby Frazier at Sussex Drive and West Pierson Road, Flint MI (2017–18) is a way of speaking of that small, post-industrial city’s ongoing water crisis.

“If you want to learn the history about a place, all you have to do is look at its inhabitants,” Frazier told Artsy, standing surrounded by her “Flint is Family” (2016–17) series inside the gallery. The images were shot on assignment for Elle magazine, and were inspired both by the artist’s college mentor, Kathe Kowalski—a firm believer in long-term social documentary work—and the mid-century reportage of Gordon Parks, namely his 1967 photo essay, “A Harlem Family.”

“Whenever I’m making a portrait,” says Frazier, and its subjects are “looking back at me, showing their dignity and pride and humanity, they are a marker on the timeline of history.”

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Courtesy of: Artsy

An Artist’s Provocative Photos of Family Life in a Damaged Town

LaToya Ruby Frazier, “Momme” 2018.

January 17, 2018
by Sarah Valdez

LaToya Ruby Frazier’s affecting new work casts an unflinching look at the effects of pollution.

It’s beyond rare that a young artist’s first solo show happens after she’s earned a MacArthur “genius” grant, but such is the case with LaToya Ruby Frazier, whose work is on view now at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise. Frazier received the prestigious award in 2015 at the age of 33, having already wowed audiences with searing black-and-white photographs taken in her highly polluted hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania. Mainly portraits of herself and her family, these affectionate depictions often illustrate health problems caused to their subjects by their surroundings. From this insider’s perspective, Frazier says she “spirals out,” meaning not that she loses control, but rather that she starts with a tight focus and gradually pulls away to reveal the bigger picture.

Frazier cements her affinity for Rust Belt towns suffering the environmental and medical consequences of waste in another series, Flint Is Family, In the titular Michigan city, pollution originates with the automotive and chemical industries, coal mining, and agriculture; in Braddock, it consists primarily of lead, bad air, and toxic runoff from steel mills. In both locations, the consequences have been more than a century in the making, and continue to devastate poor black communities whose concerns are consistently overlooked. […]

The Notion of Family, another body of work in the show, is perhaps the epicenter of Frazier’s spiral, and relates to the artist and her blood kin, mainly her mother and grandmother. In Lupus Attack, however, Frazier sits alone, topless on a bed—sexualized, surrounded by sheets, more than a bit confrontational—perhaps in need of rest due to illness, and too angry to rest. She pointedly does not avert her eyes. Frazier’s mother’s scarred spine also occupies another arresting shot. A wall text tells us that she suffers from an unidentified neurological disorder, and has had a number of cysts removed. […]

In the show’s final series, Frazier reaches still further on her outwardly spiraling journey. For A Pilgrimage to Noah Purifoy’s Desert Art Museum (2016/2017), the artist traveled to California to take outdoor installation shots of work by a seminal black assemblage artist who cobbled together objects like tires and toilets that other people deemed junk. And while the resultant images, like Purifoy’s objects themselves, might be overlooked as ephemeral, there’s much to be considered here for those interested in thinking about precisely where the line demarcating true value resides.

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LaToya Ruby Frazier is on view at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, Harlem, through 2/25/18.

Courtesy of: Vice Garage

Gavin Brown’s enterprise to debut solo exhibition by LaToya Ruby Frazier


January 14 – February 25, 2018
Opening Reception: Sunday, January 14, 2018 from 2:00 – 6:00pm

Gavin Brown’s enterprise
439 West 127th Street
New York, NY 10027
GBE website

“Through photographs, videos and text I use my artwork as a platform to advocate for others, the oppressed, the disenfranchised. When I encounter an individual or family facing inequality I create visibility through images and story-telling to expose the violation of their human rights.”

– LaToya Ruby Frazier


On January 14, Gavin Brown’s enterprise will open its debut solo exhibition by artist and photographer, LaToya Ruby Frazier. This will be Frazier’s first solo gallery exhibition in New York City, her first solo commercial gallery debut in the United States, and her largest exhibition in New York to date.

A recipient of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2015, LaToya Ruby Frazier’s artistic practice spans a range of media that incorporates photography, video and performance and centers on the nexus of social justice, cultural change and commentary on the American experience. This exhibition features three distinct recent bodies of work: Flint is Family, The Notion of Family, and A Pilgrimage to Noah Purifoy’s Desert Art Museum whose themes address Frazier’s deeply rooted and long held concerns exploring the legacies of racism, inequality, economic decline, access to healthcare and environmental justice.

Flint is Family (2016-2017), is a series of works exploring Flint, Michigan’s water crisis and the effects on its residents. Frazier spent five months with three generations of women, the poet and singer, Shea Cobb, Shea’s mother, Renée Cobb, and her daughter, Zion, living in Flint in 2016 witnessing their day to day lives as they lived through one of the most devastating man-made ecological crises in US history. Citing Gordon Parks’ and Ralph Ellison’s 1948 collaboration Harlem Is Nowhere as an influence, Frazier utilized mass media as an outlet to reach a broad audience, publishing her images of Flint in conjunction with a special feature on the water disaster in Elle magazine in September 2016. Like Parks, Frazier uses the camera as a weapon and agent of social change.

Frazier’s best-known body of work, The Notion of Family (2001-2014), is an exploration into her family, her hometown, and her own experiences through landscape and portraiture in the deindustrialized steel town of Braddock, PA. This long-running series was Frazier’s first engagement with themes that would define her career to date: systemic racism, displacement, historical narrative, and the aftermath of economic erosion in communities. It too focuses on three generations of women—Frazier’s grandmother, born in 1925 and alive to see her hometown of Braddock, PA thrive under the prosperous steel boom; her mother who lived in Braddock through the deindustrialization and segregation of the 1960s; and LaToya herself—who grew up during the 1980s “war on drugs” and witnessed the abandonment of her hometown.

A Pilgrimage To Noah Purifoy’s Desert Art Museum (2016-2017) was inspired by Frazier’s journey with fellow artist Abigail DeVille to Noah Purifoy’s outdoor museum in the high desert of Joshua Tree. A pioneering force of California Assemblage, Noah Purifoy’s practice drew from the varied traditions of Dada, Surrealism and African-American yard work. Born in 1917, Purifoy fled his native Alabama for Los Angeles upon returning from WWII. In Frazier’s words, “It struck me deeply, his sense of displacement. After the Watts riots of the mid-1960s, he collected burned materials that ended up in his art. Purifoy had a creative solution to dealing with injustice. Instead of evaporating or being silent, he took these things— pieces of wreckage—and turned them into works of art, a meditation on one’s life, one’s work, one’s history. This is the most powerful act.”

LaToya Ruby Frazier has been the subject of numerous solo presentations of her work and recent exhibitions have included The Brooklyn Museum of Art; The Seattle Art Museum, The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston; Contemporary Art Museum, Houston; Musée des Arts Contemporains, Grand-Hornu, Belgium; CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain de Bordeaux, France; Carré d’Art – musée d’art contemporain de Nîmes, France; The Silver Eye Center for Photography, Pittsburgh; and The August Wilson Center, Pittsburgh. Her work is included in celebrated international collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, The Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, among others.



Panel discussions, art-making workshops and performances at GBE in January and February in conjunction with the exhibition, LaToya Ruby Frazier. All programs take place at 439 W 127th Street and are free and open to the public.

Art-Making: ‘Zine Project
Dates to be announced

Inspired by LaToya Ruby Frazier’s concern for preserving the stories and lives of people whom are forgotten or systematically silenced, learn how ‘zines can be an accessible grassroots tool to shed light on social and political injustices as well a vehicle for personal storytelling. At these workshops, you will work with artists who specialize in ‘zine-making and self-publishing to create a ‘zine that captures your story and relationship to your social landscape. These ‘zines can incorporate photography, text and narrative to amplify your history, memory or concerns about the world around you.

Youth, adults and seniors or those with no previous experience are welcome to join as well as seasoned ‘zine- makers who would like to print and assemble projects on site. Materials will be provided but you are also welcome to bring your own pre-existing materials to create your ‘zine.

These workshops are completely free of charge, however, space is limited so show up early to reserve a spot.

In Conversation: LaToya Ruby Frazier, Dr. Esa Davis, Rev. Kyndra Frazier and Gabriel N. Mendes
Saturday, January 27, 3pm

LaToya Ruby Frazier joins Dr. Esa Davis, Associate Professor of Medicine, Clinical and Translational Science at The University of Pittsburgh and a board-certified practicing family physician with a focus in women’s health who has investigated the perinatal, cultural and behavioral factors associated with racial and socioeconomic disparities in obesity among women; Rev. Kyndra Frazier, lead innovator of Harlem’s HOPE Center and Associate Pastor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem; and Gabriel N. Mendes, author of Under the Strain of Color: Harlem’s Lafargue Clinic and the Promise of an Antiracist Psychiatry (Cornell University Press, 2015), and Associate Director of Public Health Programs at the Bard Prison Initiative, for a special conversation on health care and access from Braddock to Harlem.

In Conversation: LaToya Ruby Frazier, Abigail DeVille, Ashley James and Yael Lipschutz
Saturday, February 3, 3pm

Bronx-based multidisciplinary artist Abigail DeVille’s work touches upon displacement, migration, marginalization, and cultural invisibility. Ashley James is the Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum and a scholar whose research reconsiders the relationship between politics, art, and Blackness in the early 1970s. Yael Lipschutz is an independent curator whose recent exhibitions include “Cameron: Songs for the Witchwoman” at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and “Noah Purifoy: Junk Dada” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She serves as a Trustee of the Noah Purifoy Foundation. Together they join LaToya Ruby Frazier for a discussion about artistic practice, creation and displacement, and the legacy of Noah Purifoy.

In Conversation: LaToya Ruby Frazier, Shea Cobb and Amber Hasan
Saturday, February 24, 3pm

Performance: The Sister Tour
Featuring: Amber Hasan, Shea Cobb, Mandi Roza, Macana Roxie, Brinae Ali, Big Juicy, Yohanes
Worthom, DiAndre Brown
Saturday, February 24, 5pm

From Flint, Michigan, artists, activists and founders of The Sister Tour, Amber Hasan and Shea Cobb use their personal lives and encounters with the water crisis to serve as a catalyst to help, serve and support teens and women to harness their creative strength in the midst of chaos from Flint, Michigan to Puerto Rico. They join LaToya Ruby Frazier in conversation.

The Sister Tour offers female artists a creative, safe and supportive environment to grow as independent artists. The Sister Tour provides the stage and platform for performance along the way building a collective of female singers, rappers, poets, musicians and comedians. Ultimately, it empowers women to build in their communities and start their own creative businesses. Following the discussion, please join Shea Cobb and Amber Hasan, as they bring The Sister Tour to Harlem for a special performance.*

* Suggested donation to support fundraising for The Sister Tour

Black Futures: Fred Moten and LaToya Ruby Frazier

A Reading, Lecture, and Conversation

Poet-scholar Fred Moten and visual artist LaToya Ruby Frazier present a reading, lecture, and conversation.

January 18, 2018 at 7:30pm
University of Pittsburgh
Center for African American Poetry and Poetics
464 Cathedral of Learning
4200 Fifth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15260

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