Blackness and Visuality in a European Context

Britt Salvesen, Dhyandra Lawson

Keywords: Photography; Migration; Gender; Blackness

Participation: on-line

This paper will examine the work of several contemporary photographers—Yto Barrada, Aida Silvestri, Silvia Rose, Alberta Whittle, Frida Orupabo—who are addressing themes of migration, identity, and race as experienced in the transit between Africa and Europe. Rather than using documentary or conventionally narrative strategies of representation, they take up techniques from other aspects of photographic history. For example, Orupabo mines the avant-garde practice of collage, Barrada reclaims discarded materials, Silvestri conflates genres of portraiture and mapping, Rosi engages in studio-based performance, and Whittle in site-specific intervention. Each of these artists grounds her practice in personal exploration and social critique, yet in no way do they cohere into a singular “school” or style. This paper will speculate about the critical reception and potential impact of this ambitious work, positing that its power lies in its heterogeneity, complexity, and refusal of didacticism.

This proposal is inspired by the 2021 donation, to two American museums, of a collection comprising 200+ works by women photographers working in Europe in the 21st century. We seek opportunities for critical dialogue as we build the collection.


Britt Salvesen is curator and head of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department and the Prints and Drawings Department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Prior to joining LACMA in 2009, she was director and chief curator at the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona. She received her MA from the Courtauld Institute of Art and her PhD from the University of Chicago. Recent curatorial projects at LACMA include Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium (with Paul Martineau, 2016); Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters (2016); 3D: Double Vision (2018); and City of Cinema: Paris, 1850–1907 (with Leah Lehmbeck, 2022).

Dhyandra Lawson is Assistant Curator in the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Lawson earned her MA with distinction for excellent scholarship through the LACMA-Arizona State University Master’s Fellowship. She earned her BA from Occidental College.
Currently, Lawson is organizing the LACMA exhibition and publication The Past in Front of Us: Imagining Black Diasporas in the 21st Century (2023). She is a contributing author to Black American Portraits (2022) and Objects of Desire: Photography and the Language of Advertising (2022). Lawson builds upon LACMA’s collection of over 20,000 photographs with a focus on expanding the museum’s representation of emerging artists of color.