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LaToya Ruby Frazier Takes on Levi's

June 17, 2011

What is the responsibility of an artist to her community? In this film, artist and activist LaToya Ruby Frazier discusses the economic and environmental decline of her hometown—Braddock, Pennsylvania—the city that the clothing company Levi’s used as inspiration and backdrop for a major advertising campaign in 2010.

Having photographed in Braddock since she was sixteen years old, Frazier’s black-and-white images of her family and their surroundings present a stark contrast to the campaign images of “urban pioneers” and slogans such as “everybody’s work is equally important.”

In a performance developed in collaboration with the artist Liz Magic Laser, Frazier carries out a choreographed series of movements on the sidewalk in front of the temporary Levi’s Photo Workshop in SoHo. Wearing a costume of ordinary Levi’s clothes, the artist’s repetitive and relentless motion ultimately destroys the jeans she’s wearing.

More information and credits


Art21 New York Close Up Created & Produced by: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Editor: Mary Ann Toman. Cinematography: John Marton & Andrew David Watson. Sound: Nicholas Lindner & Nick Ravich. Associate Producer: Ian Forster. Production Assistant: Paulina V. Ahlstrom, Don Edler & Maren Miller. Design: Open. Artwork: LaToya Ruby Frazier & Liz Magic Laser. Additional Photography: Liz Magic Laser. Thanks: Kim Bourus, Ron Clark, Higher Pictures & The Whitney Independent Study Program. An Art21 Workshop Production. © Art21, Inc. 2011. All rights reserved.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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LaToya Ruby Frazier

LaToya Ruby Frazier was born in 1982 in Braddock, Pennsylvania, and currently lives and works in Chicago. An artist and activist, LaToya Ruby Frazier uses photography, video, and performance to document personal and social histories in the United States, specifically the industrial heartland. Having grown up in the shadow of the steel industry, Frazier has chronicled the healthcare inequities and environmental crises faced by her family and her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania. The artist employs a radically intimate, black-and-white documentary approach that captures the complexity, injustice, and simultaneous hope of the Black American experience, often utilizing her camera and the medium of photography as an agent for social change.

Liz Magic Laser

Liz Magic Laser was born in 1981 in New York, where she lives and works. Laser’s practice includes video and performance as well as sculpture and installation. Dissecting ideas of power and how it is performed, Laser has worked with such forms as presidential speeches, TED Talks, and nightly news broadcasts. She often integrates audience participation into works that involve social and political critiques, and has staged performances in public spaces such as banks and movie theaters. More recently, Laser has expanded her interest in the construction of identities to include children and the ways in which their self-perception is influenced by the news media.

“I always questioned the authority. I always questioned the government. I always questioned what the media was showing.

I never really believed what I was seeing because I was experiencing something that was totally different.”

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Powerful Performances

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The questions and activities included in this guide are recommendations for incorporating Art21 films featuring LaToya Ruby Frazier into your classroom.