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October 27, 2022

Acquisition: LaToya Ruby Frazier's "The Notion of Family" Series

LaToya Ruby Frazier, "U.S.S. Edgar Thomson Steel Works & Monongahela"

LaToya Ruby Frazier
U.S.S. Edgar Thomson Steel Works & Monongahela, 2013
gelatin silver print
image/sheet: 121.29 x 151.77 cm (47 3/4 x 59 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
2022.42.6

LaToya Ruby Frazier (b. 1982) employs her photography to call attention to economic, environmental, and racial inequalities, from the clean water crisis in Flint, Michigan, to the closing of the major auto plant in Lordstown, Ohio. The National Gallery of Art has recently acquired seven prints from her landmark series The Notion of Family (2001–2014).
 
The first works by Frazier to the enter the collection, The Notion of Family depicts the artist and her family in her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania, outside Pittsburgh in the Monongahela Valley. A small town with a majority-Black population, Braddock has been deeply affected by sustained environmental protection agency violations. In 2010 the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center closed Braddock's local hospital and moved it to a more affluent area. The destruction of the former hospital's buildings is movingly chronicled in Frazier's photographs as a devastating loss. In addition to panoramic views of Braddock's desolate streets and remaining industry at the nearby Edgar Thomson Steel Works, Frazier also focused on intimate moments of her family’s life. Describing her work as "a family album . . . for a family that didn't have an album," she has noted that they "lived on a shrinking street, in a shrinking community, next to a steel mill, a railroad, and a river that was polluted." Engaging her family as collaborators, she chronicled her relationship with her grandmother Ruby, who died of cancer, and her mother, who also suffers health problems caused by the area's pollution. These works are a vivid testament to the lived experience of Frazier and her family, juxtaposing their struggles with the beauty of the Monongahela Valley and its declining industrial infrastructure.

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