LaToya Ruby Frazier in Conversation with
Flint Artists and Activists Shea S. Cobb and Amber N. Hasan
Moderated by Michal Raz-Russo, Programs Director, The Gordon Parks Foundation
Thursday, April 21, 2022
This conversation was hosted in conjunction with the publication of LaToya Ruby Frazier: Flint Is Family in Three Acts—the inaugural recipient of The Gordon Parks Foundation / Steidl Book Priz—and the opening of its accompanying exhibition at the Gordon Parks Foundation Gallery. Flint Is Family In Three Acts chronicles the ongoing man-made water crisis in Flint, Michigan, from the perspective of those who live and fight for their right to access free, clean water. Featuring photographs, texts, poems, and interviews made in collaboration with Flint community members, this body of work serves as an intervention and alternative to mass-media accounts of this political, economic, and racial injustice.
Frazier first traveled to Flint in 2016, as part of an Elle magazine commission to do a photo essay about the water crisis there. During that trip she met Shea S. Cobb, a Flint poet, activist, and mother; and Amber N. Hasan, a mother, hip-hop artist, herbalist, and community organizer, who developed a collaborative creative sisterhood with Frazier. Divided into three acts, Flint Is Family follows Cobb as she fights for her family’s and community’s health and well-being. Spurred by the lack of mass-media interest in the impact of this ongoing crisis, Frazier’s approach ensures that the lives and voices of Flint’s residents are seen and heard, and that their collective creative endeavors provide a solution to this man-made water crisis. Flint Is Family In Three Acts is a twenty-first-century survey of the American landscape that reveals the persistent segregation and racism that haunts it. In equal measure, it is also a story of a community’s strength, pride, and resilience in the face of an ongoing crisis. The exhibition features photographs from Act II and Act III of Flint Is Family In Three Acts, texts by Flint community members, as well as a video Frazier made to accompany the September 2016 Elle article.
LaToya Ruby Frazier was born in 1982 in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Her artistic practice spans a range of media, including photography, video, and performance, and centers on the nexus of social justice, cultural change, and commentary on the American experience. In various interconnected bodies of work, Frazier uses collaborative storytelling with the people who appear in her artwork to address topics of industrialism, Rust Belt revitalization, environmental justice, access to healthcare, family, and communal history. Her work is held in numerous national and international museum collections. Frazier is the recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship (2015) and Guggenheim Fellowship (2014), among other honors and fellowships. Her first book, The Notion of Family (2014), received the International Center for Photography Infinity Award. Frazier currently lives and works in Chicago.
Shea S. Cobb lives and works in Flint, Michigan, where she was born and raised. She is an artist, mother, author, musician, and co-founder of the grassroots organization The Sister Tour. She began her artistic career performing poetry during children’s summer programs and organizing poetry showcases in her community. Her books of poetry include Travels in my Car: Dedicated to the Writer’s Freedom and Honey Tea and Hibiscus: Reflective Heart Poetry (both 2018), and Ruby in the Rough: A Dedication to LaToya Ruby Frazier (2020), co-authored with Amber N. Hasan. Cobb studied communications at the University of Michigan—Flint and at Mott Community College. With Frazier and The Sister Tour, Cobb has traveled across the country telling the story of her community and the water crisis through public programs and performances.
Amber N. Hasan is a writer, wife, mother, actor, hip- hop artist, herbalist, and community organizer residing in Flint, Michigan. She has been writing for as long as she can remember, viewing the practice as a sacred vehicle for feeling spiritually whole and fulfilling life’s purpose. Among her publications is her collection of poetry written with Shea Cobb, Ruby in the Rough: A Dedication to LaToya Ruby Frazier (2020). She is also co-founder of The Sister Tour, which offers platforms, resources, and safe spaces for women artists and entrepreneurs. Hasan is the owner of Mama’s Healing Hands, a line of natural healing products that was launched to address hair loss and skin rashes suffered by Flint residents as a result of the water crisis.