Deana Lawson’s photographs celebrate the strength of the Black diaspora
By Finn Blythe | Art | 10 May 2021

Above image: Deana Lawson, Barrington and Father, 2021. © Deana Lawson, courtesy the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

Last October, US artist and photographer Deana Lawson became the 13th recipient of the Hugo Boss Prize, the biennial competition established in 1996 to celebrate the work of leading contemporary artists. Some six months on and Lawson can now look forward to the opening of her major solo show at New York’s Guggenheim, Centropy, a powerful celebration of Black diaspora communities across the world.


From Haiti to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jamaica to the Bronx, Lawson’s photographs and films document the forced movement of Black people across the globe. Often featuring strangers (affectionately referred to by the artist as her “ever-expanding mythological extended family) who she meets through chance encounter, Lawson takes the quotidian domestic setting and elevates it with carefully staged compositions and hidden symbols that are suggestive of a parallel realm hidden within each image. The resulting portraits reveal an emotional depth and nuance to her subjects that is rarely seen within Black photographic portraiture.

This sense of mythology, and the paradox between reality and artifice, sacred and profane, is reflected in Lawson’s new exhibition at the Guggenheim. Many of her large-scale photographs are framed with reflective glass set with jewels and other embellishments or embedded with holograms that transform each work into mystical constellations of spectral wonder. For this exhibition, works are arranged around a physical rendering of a torus (the scientific name for a doughnut shape). The reason relates to the exhibition’s title, Centropy (as in opposite of entropy), the thermodynamic process in which particles of a system share an energetic tendency to come together in an organised manner. This is Lawson’s vision of African diaspora, revealed as a single, interconnected community of unity and strength.

The Hugo Boss Prize 2020: Deana Lawson, Centropy is on at New York’s Guggenheim until October 11 2021. 


Read Next