Critics’ Picks

Deana Lawson, Axis, 2018, pigment print,56 x 70 1/2".

Deana Lawson, Axis, 2018, pigment print,
56 x 70 1/2".


Deana Lawson

Kunsthalle Basel
Steinenberg 7
June 9–October 11, 2020

In Deana Lawson’s largest institutional exhibition to date, the interior landscape of Black lives is once again rendered legible through the New York–born photographer’s signature air of fictive kinship. Under the title “Centropy”—a word meaning the electrification of matter—holograms, found images, 16-mm films, and videos exist alongside portraits and scenes, the largest of which, exceeding one meter in width, are framed within thick, mirrored glass. To look at the sitter, you must also look at yourself.

My gaze ricocheted across the main room and frequently returned to Axis, 2018, in which three nude Black women, ordered from lightest to darkest complexion, synchronize in an open front split on a brown floral rug. Almost parallel to this image on the opposite wall is White Spider, 2019, which depicts a shapely Black woman bent forward while grabbing both feet, peering at the camera upside-down and from between her legs—a scene typical in a Kingston dancehall, in which the roving flash of camcorders often heightens the visual spectacle of the club space.

In making room for such an expansive survey of Lawson’s Pan-African photo album of “godlike beings” (as she puts it) from Brazil, Jamaica, America, Haiti, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, “Centropy” offers a full expression of the photographer’s incisive vision, one in which an everyday regality is extended to Black people everywhere, from the strangers intimately posed in these tableaux to the subject of a recent commission for Vanity Fair: Angela Y. Davis.