MIA exhibit explores work of Gordon Parks, who started his photography career in Twin Cities

MINNEAPOLIS — A new exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art features work from a photographer that started his career in the Twin Cities back in the 1930s. 

It’s called American Gothic: Gordon Parks and Ella Watson. Many will recognize the title photo, a portrait of Watson standing in front of an American flag with a broom and mop. 

“Washington, D.C. Government charwoman (American Gothic)” by Gordon Parks (1942). Gelatin silver print. 

National Gallery of Art; Corcoran Collection (The Gordon Parks Collection); © The Gordon Parks Foundation

“I want them to understand, too, the very special alchemy that happens when a Black photographer enters into Black homes and Black lives and tells the story from a place of deep experience and empathy and knowing,” MIA Curator of Photography and New Media Casey Riley said.

Riley was the curator behind the series. She also is the Chair of Global Contemporary Art at MIA. She wants those walking through vibrantly painted walls to see and feel everything. 

In a series of nearly 60 photos, Parks captures Watson in different landscapes of her life: her job as a government custodial worker, a mother and a deaconess at her church. 

“What I hope people take away from this is that everybody’s work, everybody’s contributions matters and that from the kind of organization and labor that we do every day we can build something profound and change society for the better,” Riley said. 

MIA visitors Malik Mitchell and Azania Tripp were touched by Watson’s humanity captured on film. 

“I feel like that’s really important, especially for workers that tend to be very invisible and made invisible, but that their labor is very important to how we function in society and make us be able to work very efficiently,” Mitchell said.

As a social worker, and artist herself, Tripp sees how her story plays into present day society. 

“I think just the importance of giving people space to share their experience, and that it’s valid and that what is happening to you is real,” she said. “Because it feels very minimizing when you’re navigating racism.” 

American Gothic: Gordon Parks and Ella Watson runs at the MIA until June 23. 

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