I was moved to photograph the arrival of COVID-19 in the U.S. because of the severity of the virus’s global impact. There were so many unknowns as the virus arrived stateside. The national and local governments rushed to contain its spread. Unfortunately, the number of victims increased to unprecedented heights, with Black and brown people succumbing in disproportionate numbers.
Just when the curve began to flatten in New York City, the news of the murder of George Floyd rapidly spread over networks and social media, so I traveled to the Twin Cities. When I arrived in Minneapolis, I felt compelled to sit with, photograph, and interview the residents, activists, and people who acted as a support system, to those who were center in the uprisings.
I was interested in the stories that detailed how we arrived at this moment. I knew that this moment of a global reckoning of race and injustice would be historic, and I felt passionately–and even responsible–as a Black documentarian to participate in the storytelling. My portraits document the lived experiences of Black Americans during the double crisis of the pandemic, and the uprisings against injustice.
Laylah Amatullah Barrayn is a documentary photographer and writer. She is the co-author of the independently published MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora, the first anthology in nearly 30 years that highlights photography produced by women of African descent. Barrayn is a frequent contributor to the New York Times. Her work has been included in books like Black: A Celebration of a Culture edited by Dr. Deborah Willis, Photography, A Feminist History by Emma Lewis, and Streams of Consciousness: Bamako Encounters — African Biennale of Photography edited by Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung.
Barrayn’s personal and professional projects have taken her from Minneapolis to Malaysia to Martinique to Mauritania, among many global locales where she focuses her inquiries on Black diasporic communities with a special interest in religious traditions, aesthetics and the experiences of women. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, with solo exhibitions at the Museum of the African Diaspora San Francisco and the Taubman Museum of Art (VA). In 2018, she was included as one of the Royal Photographic Society’s (UK) Hundred Heroines. Barrayn earned an M.A. from New York University. She is currently working on a book on contemporary Black photographers.
Photo Credit: Alex Bershaw
Founded in 2011 in Brooklyn, NY, Photoville was built on the principles of addressing cultural equity and inclusion, which we are always striving for, by ensuring that the artists we exhibit are diverse in gender, class, and race.
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We Are Present: Portraits from the Pandemic and the Uprising
Featuring: Laylah Amatullah Barrayn
LocationsView Location Details Brooklyn Bridge Park – Pier 2
146 Furman Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
This location is part of Brooklyn Bridge Park
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- Thursday 8:00 am - 8:00 pm
- Friday 8:00 am - 8:00 pm
- Saturday 8:00 am - 8:00 pm
- Sunday 8:00 am - 8:00 pm
EDUCATION DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
Whose story resonates with you the most or surprises you? Why?
Why do you think the photographer included images from the pandemic and from the protests? How are these events interconnected?
Why do you think it is important for Black photographers to tell Black stories?