Southern Rites by Gillian Laub
In-person exhibition at the CADVC, Fine Arts Building
UMBC’s Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture presents Southern Rites by Gillian Laub, on display from October 15 through December 12.
American photographer Gillian Laub (b. 1975) has spent the last two decades investigating political conflicts, exploring family relationships, and challenging assumptions about cultural identity. In Southern Rites, Laub engages her skills as a photographer, filmmaker, and visual activist to examine the realities of racism and raise questions that are simultaneously painful and essential to understanding the American consciousness.
In 2002, Laub was sent on a magazine assignment to Mount Vernon, Georgia, to document the lives of teenagers in the American South. The town, nestled among fields of Vidalia onions, symbolized the archetype of pastoral, small town American life. The Montgomery County residents Laub encountered were warm, polite, protective of their neighbors, and proud of their history. Yet Laub learned that the joyful adolescent rites of passage celebrated in this rural countryside — high school homecomings and proms — were still racially segregated.
Laub continued to photograph Montgomery County over the following decade, returning even in the face of growing — and eventually violent — resistance from community members and local law enforcement. She documented a town held hostage by the racial tensions and inequities that scar much of the nation’s history. In 2009, a few months after Barack Obama’s first inauguration, Laub’s photographs of segregated proms were published in The New York Times Magazine. The story brought national attention to the town and the following year the proms were finally integrated. The power of her photographic images served as the catalyst and, for a moment, progress seemed inevitable.
Then, in early 2011, tragedy struck the town. Justin Patterson, a twenty-two-year-old unarmed African American man — whose segregated high school homecoming Laub had photographed — was shot and killed by a sixty-two-year-old white man. Laub’s project, which began as an exploration of segregated high school rituals, evolved into an urgent mandate to confront the painful realities of discrimination and structural racism. Laub continued to document the town over the following decade, during which the country re-elected its first African American president and the ubiquity of camera phones gave rise to citizen journalism exposing racially motivated violence. As the Black Lives Matter Movement and national protests proliferated, Laub uncovered a complex story about adolescence, race, the legacy of slavery, and the deeply rooted practice of segregation in the American South.
Southern Rites is a specific story about twenty-first century young people in the American South, yet it poses a universal question about human experience: can a new generation liberate itself from a harrowing and traumatic past to create a different future?
Southern Rites is organized by the International Center of Photography and Curator Maya Benton.
Tickets to Southern Rites are free. We kindly ask that you plan to attend only once to limit the demand on tickets.
The exhibition is accompanied by an optional viewing of the 90-minute HBO documentary Southern Rites. Visitors who wish to view the film in the CADVC’s screening room should select the “Gallery & Film” option when obtaining tickets.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, visitors are limited to groups of up to 10 people from the same household or Covid pod. When you reserve a free ticket for the exhibit, your ticket will grant entrance for up to 10 people. Upon arrival to the CADVC, your ticket will be scanned, and all members of your party will be asked to sign in with their name, email, and phone number, should contact tracing be necessary.
The CADVC is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
30-minute time slots will be available to visit the gallery exhibit every day at 10 a.m., 10:40 a.m., 1:30 a.m., and 4:20 p.m.
2-hour time slots will be available to view the Southern Rites film and visit the gallery exhibit every day at 11:20 a.m. and 2:10 p.m.