Dana Lixenberg: Imperial Courts, 1993–2015
AMSTERDAM • The Huis Marseille • 12 December 2015 - 6 March 2016
|The Huis Marseille exhibition Imperial Courts, 1993–2015 displays for the first time the entirety of the work of photographer Dana Lixenberg (born 1964, Amsterdam) made in the neighbourhood of Los Angeles from which it takes its name over the last twenty-two years. Through her photography, video, and audio works, Lixenberg offers us an intimate glimpse into the everyday life of this troubled area and its residents. |
In 1944, as part of a large-scale public housing project, 498 single-family houses were built in Watts, a district of Los Angeles. During the 1950s, most of the people housed there were African-Americans from the Southern States. Imperial Courts, together with the surrounding districts, soon became a black ghetto. In 1965, rising anger at social injustice resulted in the notorious Watts rebellion and race rioting. In 1992, riots again broke out after four LAPD police officers were acquitted of the brutal beating of Rodney King, a black taxi driver. The same streets were also the battleground of a bloody conflict between two gangs, the Crips and the Bloods, until they agreed on a truce in 1993.
‘You want to put some niggas on display? Hahaha,’ was Tony Bogard’s reaction, leader of the PJ Watts Crips gang when Dana Lixenberg first met him in 1993, at the height of racial tensions in Los Angeles. Apart from the media, no one ever visited South Central Los Angeles, let alone the ‘projects’. Lixenberg was at first regarded with suspicion. The community was fed up with media attention and the negative stereotypes that came with it. But Lixenberg was persistent, and was eventually granted the approval of Tony Bogard, who would later play a crucial role in negotiating a truce between the Crips and the Bloods. During the month that followed, Lixenberg gradually won the trust of the residents of Imperial Courts.
Using a large-format camera mounted on a tripod, she portrayed them in black and white with only natural light. She intentionally photographed her subjects against neutral backgrounds, rather than locations loaded with meaning, such as graffiti-filled walls, and she kept references to gang culture out of her images.
In so doing, according to the former director of photography at Vibe magazine, in which her work was first published in 1993, she created ‘a moving yet shrewdly quiet range of pictures that afforded her subjects the pleasure of being themselves as compelling individuals […] despite their monolithic, emotionally reserved surfaces, her casts of subjects surge throughout this dazzling series with a collective cool and an unfussy sense of elegance that imbues these men, women and children with quiet fire and vivid sense of style and self.’ (George Pitts, Hotshoe magazine, 2013) Tony Bogard was the last person Lixenberg photographed in this first period in 1993. He was shot dead in 1994.
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