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“Chief” by Deana Lawson: November Collection Highlight

Deana Lawson is a Brooklyn-based photographer known for investigating and challenging conventional representations of Black identities and bodies through her photographs.

Deana Lawson (American, born 1979), Chief, 2019, pigmented inkjet print with mirror frame, 58 × 73 1/8 inches, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from the David C. Driskell Endowment, 2022.80. © Deana Lawson.

Seated on a worn couch in modest surroundings, the man in this image wears jewelry associated with that worn by Asante people of Ghana, who are known for their gold work. Here, Lawson underscores an ongoing lineage of Black royalty by drawing connections across the diaspora between West African traditions of adornment and the bold jewelry of American hip-hop fashion. There is a sense of action throughout the scene: his slightly raised hands belie either an uneasiness or that he is on the verge of movement, while the billowing curtains suggest an unseen divine presence and allude to a sense of spirituality, reinforced through the Christian iconography on the wall.

Watch as Assistant Curator of Photography Maria L. Kelly discusses Chief in the film above. The piece is currently on view on the Lower Level of the High’s Wieland Pavilion.

You can learn more about Deana Lawson’s inventive approach to photography in the special exhibition Deana Lawson, on view until February 19, 2023!

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