The George Gund Foundation has commissioned Deana Lawson to capture maternal health and prenatal care in Cleveland, which is the Foundation's theme for 2019.

Lawson (b. 1979, Rochester, NY) is a photo-based artist whose work examines the body’s ability to channel personal and social histories, addressing themes of familial legacy, community, romance, and spiritual aesthetics.

Her practice borrows from simultaneous visual traditions, ranging from photographic and figurative portraiture, social documentary aesthetics, and vernacular family album photographs. Lawson is visually inspired by the materiality of black culture and its expression as seen through the body and in domestic environments. Her models are often ordinary people, discovered at corner stores, on subway trains, or along busy avenues. The work often takes place in their homes, where Lawson arranges their belongings and guides them into specific poses to stage, what she’s described as, “a mirror of everyday life, but also a projection of what I want to happen. It’s about setting a different standard of values and saying that everyday black lives, everyday experiences, are beautiful, and powerful, and intelligent.”

Lawson’s ability to seek out and illuminate the personal and powerful is clear throughout the body of her work. Her intimate portraiture is made distinctive by the deliberately theatrical scenes or highly structured moments she creates as well as her striking attention to detail. In a 2018 interview with Mary Dellas for The Cut, Lawson said, “As a photographer I’m also making choices to include or exclude certain things that make [the photo] appear like reality, but it’s not.”

Called “one of the most compelling photographers in her generation” by Aperture, Lawson received her MFA in Photography from Rhode Island School of Design in 2004. She published a monograph with Aperture, which featured an essay by acclaimed writer Zadie Smith and an interview with artist Arthur Jafa in 2018. Her photography has been exhibited widely, including shows at the Art Institute of Chicago, Brooklyn Museum, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, and the 2018 Whitney Biennial. She is the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, Art Matters Grant, John Gutmann Photography Fellowship, Rema Hort Mann Foundation Grant, Aaron Siskind Fellowship Grant, and a NYFA Grant. She has participated in several residencies, and her work has been featured in numerous publications, including TIME Magazine, The New Yorker, The Collector's Guide to New Art Photography Vol. 2, and Time Out New York. She is currently an assistant professor in visual arts at Princeton University.

Lawson will make two trips to Cleveland, one in December 2019 and one in Spring 2020, to capture images of mothers and children across the city. Her work will be showcased on The George Gund Foundation website, which is updated annually in response to the commission and which is slated for launch in Fall 2020.

Visit the Foundation’s website today to see Refugees and Immigrants, last year’s priority captured by photographer Fazel Sheikh.