Teacher Exchange: LaToya Ruby Frazier
Feb 14, 2012

Teachers talking with an artist

Teacher Exchange participants having a conversation with 2012 Whitney Biennial artist, LaToya Ruby Frazier, February 2012. Photograph by Erika Pekar

At our February meeting, we had the opportunity to meet with Biennial 2012 artist, LaToya Ruby Frazier. In addition to sharing her nine-year photography collaboration with her family, Frazier gave us a sneak peek into a series of photo-lithographs that are on view in the exhibition.

Frazier is passionate about her work and her political stance, which revolves around her hometown, Braddock, Pennsylvania. She told us how she grew up in a town that has been in social, economic, and environmental decline since the collapse of the steel industry in the 1970s, and she talked about her family’s constant struggle for economic stability and access to health care. In one of her recent works, Frazier exposed the irony and hypocrisy in a Levi’s jeans advertising campaign set in Braddock that promotes “Urban Pioneers” with slogans including “Go Forth” and “Everybody’s Work is Equally Important.” “Everybody’s work is not equally important!” declared Frazier.

A group discussion with teachers and artists

Teacher Exchange participants and Latoya Ruby Frazier in discussion about advertising campaigns and magazine covers, February 2012. Photograph by Erika Pekar.

At Frazier’s request, the second half of the meeting focused on media campaigns that offended us or made us uncomfortable. One of the teachers brought in magazine covers that depicted the President of the United States as a terrorist, while others shared overtly sexy images of young women in advertising campaigns at bus stops and in subway cars. It was a fascinating exercise as it sensitized us to the power of suggestion in media and challenged us to be critical observers. Frazier will meet with us again in March to talk more specifically about her work in the exhibition.

By Kiara Downey, a participant in the Whitney’s Teacher Exchange program.

Downey teaches English Literature and Drama at The United Nations International School.