Artist and activist LaToya Ruby Frazier (b. 1983, Braddock, Pennsylvania) uses photography, video, and performance to document personal and social histories in the United States. Critically examining the connection of post-industrialization to American communities of color, Frazier’s work explores issues of outsourcing, environmental negligence, de-urbanization, and inequality. Her work builds from images of personal spaces, intimate and intensely private moments between friends and family members, and the story of racial and economic injustice in America. Collaborating with the individuals who appear in her work, Frazier uses her platform in the art world and in publications such as the New York Times and the Atlantic to advocate for the geographically oppressed or disenfranchised, raising issues of inequity related to class, race, health care, and the environment, while emphasizing the importance of cultural memory.
For her 2016 photo essay Flint is Family, Frazier was commissioned by Elle magazine to document the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, one of the worst man-made environmental catastrophes in recent national history that has exposed more than 100,000 Flint residents to heavy metal neurotoxins and Legionnaires’ disease after officials neglected to maintain corroding pipes. The artist spent five months living in Flint and photographing the city’s inhabitants, deeply immersing herself in their everyday lives. Shea Cobb—artist, activist, poet, and school bus driver—is a central subject of Flint is Family, along with her mother, Ms. Renée, and her eight-year-old daughter, Zion. Shea brushing Zion’s teeth with bottled water in her bathroom (2016–17) depicts Shea using bottled water in order to not come into contact with the contaminated tap water. With 40 percent of its shrinking population living in poverty, Flint is a symbol for the economic downturn that accompanied the decline of the automobile industry in the mid-twentieth century. This story sets out to amplify the voices of the people directly affected by the legacy of racism and economic decline in America’s small towns, asking the question: What are the human costs of environmental racism?
LaToya Ruby Frazier’s work is exhibited widely in the United States and internationally, with notable solo exhibitions at the Carré d’art, Nîmes, France (2015); Seattle Art Museum (2013–14); Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2013–14); Brooklyn Museum (2013); and Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (2013). Her work has also been featured in group shows at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2019); J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (2019); Milwaukee Art Museum (2019); Columbus Museum of Art (2018); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2017); the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2016); Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2016); and MoMA PS1, Long Island City, Queens (2010). Frazier is the recipient an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters from Edinboro University, Pennsylvania (2019), and an honorary doctorate of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn (2017), as well as fellowships and grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s MacArthur Fellows Program (2015), TED Fellows (2015), and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2014). Her work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Brooklyn Museum; Seattle Art Museum; Carnegie Museum; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among others. Frazier currently lives and works in Chicago.