“Storytelling is the nucleus of my practice”: Bria Lauren on photographing Black women from her community
Bria Lauren talks us through her creative influences and her current exhibition, Gold Was Made Fa’ Her.
- Elfie Thomas
- 9 December 2021
When attempting to encapsulate who exactly Bria Lauren is, there’s no better way than through her own words: “I’m still in process of learning who I am, but at this moment, it feels good to see myself as Ms. Peaches’ daughter, a multifaceted visual artist, auntie, lover, sensitive hottie, Taurus, community organiser, and Hood feminist from Third Ward in Houston, Texas.” Bria's pronouns are she/her, “although these days when my masculine ‘dyke’ energy pulls up I feel like they/them in spirit," she adds. Bria is coming to the end of a big year. Her exhibition – Gold Was Made Fa’ Her – is currently showing at the Lawndale Art Center in Houston. The same week that the show debuted, Bria assisted photographer Kennedi Carter for the Google Pixel X NY Times Real Tone project. On this project, through working in spaces that have been denied to people of colour, Bria says her involvement “felt revolutionary”. But Bria doesn’t take her success for granted. As her career takes off, Bria is determined to devote her energy towards teaching and working with marginalised communities – “photography, healing, and art education should be accessible to everyone, and not just those that are near the museums and ‘arts districts’,” Bria says firmly.
When Bria was a child, she didn’t speak much, she tells It’s Nice That. Photography became a way for her to “unlearn” the personal obstacles which restricted her from using her voice. As Bria began capturing other people through her camera lens, she simultaneously allowed herself to be “seen”. As she began to “heal” herself through her creative practice, Bria noticed that other people in her community also needed to find their voices in other ways. Thus, since these early stages in her creative practice, Bria has devoted her craft to foregrounding her core values: “liberation for Black women, motherhood, community preservation in the South, social justice and healing for marginalised communities, and resisting and unpacking respectability.”
When asked to put her finger on some of her main influences, Bria’s answer is direct: “my ancestors and my mama.” During “the (S.U.C) screwed up click era,” her mother was “vulnerable and in a lot of pain” and “ drugs robbed her of raising her children, a future in the arts, and entrepreneurship.” In spite of this, Bria’s mother has played a crucial role in Bria’s process of healing, always inspiring her to “push against boundaries, and remain loyal to my artistic practice”. Like Bria, her mother was also passionate about taking pictures and archiving family memories. Bria’s expert eye for communicating something intensely personal with sensitivity shines through in her photograph, Mama’s Room. Here, even without the physical presence of her mother, Bria manages to communicate a sense of this woman that is so important to her. A pinkish hue resonates from the centre of a table strewn with makeup and creams. Viewing the tools with which so many women use to ready themselves to go out into the world is immediately relatable, but the pinkish warmth in the centre feels personal – capturing that abstract bond of security between mother and daughter.
Mama’s Room is just one of the photographs featured in Bria’s exhibition Gold Was Made Fa’ Her which is currently showing at the Lawndale Centre. This exhibition, Bria explains, “is a love letter to myself, my mother, and Black hood women from the Southside of Houston.” The series celebrates women from her community through intimate and uplifting portraits and is sprinkled with peaks at their homes and personal objects. Bria speaks humbly about the people she photographed for the series, grateful that they have trusted her with their “vulnerability”. Through the way in which the sitters hold the lens of Bria’s camera with quiet confidence, a singular sense of mutual respect between photographer and subject becomes clear throughout the series.
It is impressive to see how Bria manages to take portraits that feel so immediate whilst constantly foregrounding elements of the past – glimpses of the generations of ancestors uplifting the women she photographs and making them who they are. Bria explains: “Storytelling is the nucleus of my practice. It’s how we archive, preserve, remember, and honour our existence.” This archival instinct is felt in the careful composition of her photograph of Madison kneeling in a supermarket aisle, cradling a picture of her sister, Jade. It appears again through her depiction of the smiling “Ganny” Jewel Mcfarlin, surrounded by her family history displayed proudly in the photographs on her wall. By incorporating photographs within photographs, these images seem to resonate with the whispers of personal histories. To the viewer, those stories remain unknown, just whispers. In this way, Bria’s portraits achieve something very special – allowing the sitter’s stories to be celebrated whilst keeping them safe and private from the curious eye of the viewer.
On hearing her future plans, we feel certain that Bria is going to do justice to the people who have inspired her – “the women and men in my lineage who led movements, integrated political systems, and used their voice and resources to pour into the community of Third Ward and Houston.” Alongside developing Gold Was Made Fa’ Her into a “never-ending body of work, but also a collective and home,” Bria aims to dedicate herself to “create space, funding, and opportunities” for other artists and people in her community.
Bria Lauren: Jaylynn (Copyright © Bria Lauren, 2019)
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.