Visual Arts Review: Diana Lawson Photos-Portal to Possibilities

Chloe Pinjon

Viewers are invited to create images of the show at will. Use your imagination to come up with your own vast and beautiful story.

Diana Lawson, Hair ads,Year 2005. Pigment print. Artist courtesy; Sikkema Jenkins & Co. , Newyork; and David Cordance Key Gallery, Los Angeles. © Deana Lawson

The gallery of the Deana Lawson Exhibition (until February 22, 2022, Boston Institute of Contemporary Art) is lined with red carpets all over the wall. It’s a warm space. It calmed down. This is in contrast to the traditional white cube where visitors are invited to experience the arts. Here you are in a completely new space. A space where the outside world is at least a little silent and pushed away. Here, only Lawson and the general public. That’s her favorite way.

Lawson was born in Rochester, New York. Her mother worked in Kodak and her aunt was one of the first black female ophthalmologists. It is understandable that her connection with visual arts is multi-layered. Her work on display at ICA is intertwined with her photographs, images and her heritage. She often focuses on pictures of her family and emphasizes the image of intimacy — hugging bodies and people relaxing at home. It is not always clear whether this intimacy should be seen as a personal drama or a general observation of the black experience. Our interest in background information is not important — probably not. Viewers are invited to create images of the show at will. Use your imagination to come up with your own vast and beautiful story.

The first room of the exhibition is decorated with five photographs. My eyes were immediately drawn to the colored black image of the red explosion. Pushed into the frame to overlay the visual is a small photo of a woman.The work is called Dana and Sirius B.. The explosion is wonderfully powerful. It’s almost symmetrical, but it has enough flaws to make it look natural. It is the star Sirius B, invisible to the naked eye and hidden in the shadow of the neighboring Sirius A. In Lawson’s photo, Sirius B is shining. The woman in the superimposed photo is young and smiling. I’m Dana, Lawson’s twin sister. This is one of the only times in the show where Lawson identifies the subject in her photographs. The frame of the work is a mirror image, so you can look back when you look at it from a right angle.

Hanging on the other side of the room Girl with an oiled face, Images of young black twins in dresses sitting on the couch looking at the camera, their facial expressions are dull. This photo has no context. Perhaps this work reflects Lawson’s childhood as a twin. Probably not.Hanging at the front door of this same gallery Hair ads.. In this photo, a beautiful young woman is staring at the camera. This is a photo of the photo. This is a picture of an advertisement that Lawson saw outside a beauty salon in Rochester. At ICA, she is sure to recycle images and satirize the standards of beauty of black women’s white society.

Diana Lawson, Black Gold (“The Earth Turns into Gold by the Hands of the Sage” Rumi), 2021. Pigment print with embedded hologram. Artist courtesy; Sikkema Jenkins & Co. , Newyork; and David Cordance Key Gallery, Los Angeles. © Deana Lawson

The exhibition consists of eight rooms, and the photographs are primarily portraits, organized chronologically to record Lawson’s 20-year increase in self-confidence. Photos grow in size and become more self-aware over time. The second room has seven carefully selected images. In the corner is a collection of drugstore photos. These types of arrangements are deliberately placed within the more marginalized space of the gallery and are frequently recreated throughout the exhibition. Since each image tells its own story, a network like a collage is so complex that it’s impossible to understand everything. It is the act of regaining the complexity of a black identity by looking at the popular (and oppressive?) Power of media and photography.

The larger the Lawson photo, the more the same challenge arises. They become overwhelming, with shallow depth of field and clear attention to the details of the juxtaposed subject’s posture and facial expressions. The result is a paradox. Too much or too little information is provided to the viewer. If Lawson’s photos have windows or doors, they are hidden by drapes or curtains. The effect is to suggest that the outside world has been excluded so far. In the corners of some galleries, there are sometimes crystals placed to strategically assemble photos. These stones, which are works of art in their own right, transform the space into a frame that contains the viewer.

The center of the exhibition is in the 5th room. Here, one wall is adorned with a series of photographs that Lawson did not take.The work is called Mohawk Correctional Facility: Jazzmin and Family.. It consists of a collection of family portraits showing men, women and children in different poses. They are always standing on a wall of cement painted in blue and yellow. In the lower corner of the wall, there are painted vegetation, which is a primary color far from nature and a basic stroke, but probably suggests the outside world. These are pictures of Lawson’s cousin Jazzmin and her partner Eric. They were taken to the prison visit center where Eric was imprisoned. This edit is dedicated to the actual year, the actual family, and the actual space inside the prison.Irony hangs across the gallery garden. Here, a naked couple is photographed surrounded by greenery. The existence of nature makes ironic comments on photos of prison captivity. Here Lawson juxtaposes captivity, American mythology, reality and freedom.

Diana Lawson, Nation, 2018. Pigment prints and collage photos. Artist courtesy; Sikkema Jenkins & Co. , Newyork; and David Cordance Key Gallery, Los Angeles. © Deana Lawson

In the last room of the exhibition, the silence of the former gallery has been replaced by the sound of music. Women in Ghana and Togore can be heard singing a cappella choral arrangements by voice from a 12-minute video loop in the last room of the exhibition. Note that as you move through the gallery, your singing voice grows louder and the size of the photos on display grows. In addition, the facial expressions and humanity of Lawson’s subjects are deeply impressed as they progress. In the sixth room, which has audio but is far away, attention was needed to certain images.title is Portal, And it’s another photo without people. A close-up of some of the beat-up sofas covered in brown leather. There are crevices in the fabric. The reference to poverty is clear, but so is Lawson’s request to, by paying attention, to imagine the potential for transformation in its jagged, empty space.


Chloe Pinjon An up-and-coming senior studying film and journalism at Boston University.She writes regularly for the features and arts section of the Boston University Independent Student Newspaper. HeightsAlso wrote in the Culture section of, and Lithium magazine.. She is currently a creative development intern at Foundation Films.

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