In this country, the urban landscape is constantly renegotiated. Property values and sales traditionally dictate the rhythms of change, leading to the erasure of cultures and histories, especially those of minority communities. Highly attuned to growing gentrification in her neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles, Lauren Halsey, who studied architecture and art, celebrates Black culture, making space for representations of the people and places around her as a method of creative resistance.
Halsey notes that “Hieroglyphs allude to a form of imagining, time travel, myth making, and fantasizing around the origins of Black diasporic folk, as so many of us African Americans don’t know where our specific origins are on the African continent.” Ancient Egypt is often referenced in emancipatory philosophies such as Afrofuturism as both a mythological and historical source for Black culture, and it is present throughout Halsey’s practice.
In her installation at SAM, the artist shows works in which proud declarations of Black-owned businesses intermingle with images of Egyptian pyramids, the Sphinx, and pharaohs and queens, all drawn from a personal archive Halsey has developed through research and community interactions. Carved gypsum relief panels on the perimeter of the gallery are reminiscent of temple walls, while the boxes stacked in a large-scale central sculpture are metaphorical building blocks for future architecture, resonating with imagery from the present.
Through her archive and daily life, Halsey strives to record the unique expressions of her neighborhood before the forces of capital erase them. Placing these hyperlocal portraits, signs, and imagery in the context of real and imagined histories, the artist remixes ancient and contemporary cultures into a unifying vision.
In 2019, Halsey established and self-funded the community center Summaeverythang, which applies her ideas of self-directed action to lived experience. Supported by a dedicated team of volunteers (including Halsey), the center sources and distributes boxes of fresh, organic produce to the Watts and South Central L.A. areas and is a site for the empowerment of Black and Brown people.
Lauren Halsey is the 2021 recipient of the Seattle Art Museum’s Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize. Funding for the prize and exhibition is provided by the Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence and Jacob Lawrence Endowment and generous support from the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation.