Liz Johnson Artur

Questions of representation: how is the person in a photograph portrayed, who portrays them, and what is the context in which all this takes place? In her images, Liz Johnson Artur responds to these questions with dissolution: of subject and object, of attributions and expectations. Adolescent schoolgirls, a boxer after training, nuns at mass, or a posing dancehall MC. Those represented represent themselves.

What Johnson Artur has been portraying for three decades, and what she calls “the archive,” is society from Black viewpoints. Although she has photographed everyone from a Black hairdresser to a member of the Nation of Islam, she has no fantasies of completeness in the spirit of August Sander’s long-term indexical project People of the Twentieth Century.

Her pictures, manifesting countless encounters, now shape her archive in both content and physical form. Not a room full of boxes neatly arranged in chronological order, but a constantly growing number of sketchbooks that she fills with photographs, drawings, and thoughts, and to which she often returns. Her own logic of representation: “It’s my archive that’s been growing for thirty years. It grows according to my rules. And it’s my strategy for coexisting with the many individuals I’ve met.”

—Julia Grosse

  • KW Institute for Contemporary Art


From Black Balloon Archive, 1991–ongoing

7 Places, 1989–2017
Silver-gelatin print, framed

BornNBread, 2018
9 inkjet prints on vintage paper

London Tapestry, 2018
Felt, leather, different fabrics

Men&Trees, 2016

Real...Times, 2018
Video, color, sound, ca. 15′53′′

Sketches, 1993–2018
Paper, Acetate

All works courtesy Liz Johnson Artur
Existing works as well as commissioned works produced by Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art