Lyle Ashton Harris

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Lyle Ashton Harris
Born (1965-02-06) February 6, 1965 (age 54)
EducationWesleyan University 1988, BFA, Whitney Museum Independent Study Program 1992, California Institute of the Arts 1990, MFA, National Graduate Photography Seminar, Tisch School of the Arts 1990
Known forPhotography

Lyle Ashton Harris (born 1965) is an American artist who has cultivated a diverse artistic practice ranging from photographic media, collage, installation art and performance art.

Early life[edit]

Born in the Bronx, Harris was mostly raised by his chemistry professor mother Rudean after she divorced Harris's father, between New York City and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.[1] Rudean remarried "Lee". Harris has expressed the impact of the absence of his father as a large impact on his personal and emotional development, which would later be shown through some of his pieces, including his collaborations with his brother, Thomas Allen Harris.[2] Harris discovered he had an older half- brother mid way through his childhood, which he had previously thought to be the son of his mothers eldest sister. Harris spent a lot of his childhood with his grandparents[3], including his maternal grandmother Joella, who he has featured in his art, was a missionary and his grandfather was a treasurer for Greater Bethel AME Church (Harlem, New York), which influenced many of Harris' pieces. Additionally, his grandfather had an extensive photograph archive, which can be connected to Harris' later experimentation with photography in his art[3].

During their youth in the early 1970's, Harris and his brother began to do drag on the weekends, in which they would perform in the hallway of their mother's home. This provided a safe space for the brothers to experiment with gender and their own personal sexual identity, something they feel is crucial to their artistic development. In addition to playing with gender and performance, Harris toyed with color and different functions of color. Growing up in the 1970's, there was a resurgence within the African American community in which exploration of African culture began to influence style and domestic culture. Harris used color to connect himself and his art back to these roots, as many in his community did at the time of his childhood.[2]

As Harris grew, as did his presence in the art world. Harris received his MFA from the California Institute of the Arts and attended the National Graduate Photography Seminar at the Tisch School of the Arts in 1990[4]. Following this time, Harris also participated in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in 1992[4]. In 1988, Harris graduated from Wesleyan University with a BFA.


In January 1993, "Face: Lyle Ashton Harris" was exhibited at the New Museum. The installation combined photography, video and an audio track offering a critique of masculinity and explore constructions of sexuality, race, and gender.[5] In the fall of 1994, Harris exhibited The Good Life in New York where Barkley L. Hendricks also appeared, where Elizabeth Hess of The Village Voice said "the most brilliant pairing in the installation is achieved when Lyle Ashton Harris' seductive self-portraits meet Barkley L. Hendricks' tight paintings of black men. Harris dresses up in feminine costumes, challenging every construct of black macho, while Hendricks' dated, once fashionable portraits - a sports figure, a man in a fancy, full-length coat - support the pillars of masculinity...".[6] The show was composed of large format Polaroids depicting staged and impromptu photographs of friends and family members.[7] One of the most notable works from the show is a triptych series in collaboration with his brother, Thomas Allen Harris, entitled "Brotherhood, Crossroads, Etcetera". The work weaves a complex visual allegory that invokes ancient African cosmologies, Judeo-Christian myths, and taboo public and private desires.[8]

Harris remained consistent in his ability to play with gender, sexuality and race in his art when he worked with Renée Cox in 1994. The two posed for Harris's polaroid piece, The Child[9]. Cox poses as a father figure, embracing Harris as the mother figure, who holds a child as they both look into the camera. Harris maintains his color scheme of black, green, red, and yellow, which emphasize his connection to his African roots and culture[4]. Green, he establishes as a symbol of the African race, and red as a symbol of blood. [2]This color scheme was used for The Child, as well as his project Brotherhood, done with Thomas Allen Harris.

A tool Harris found important in his work was color, of which he used to convey different aspects of his history and meaning within his work.

Collage has remained an integral part of Harris's studio practice since the mid-1990s. In 1996, "The Watering Hole", a photomontage series, reveals his performative use of photography and its mechanisms, putting image into a field of representation where they reveal hidden or repressed occurrences.[10]

In 2003, he created works he titled "Memoirs of Hadrian" that took the form of a letter from Emperor Hadrian to Marcus Aurelius after the novel Memoirs of Hadrian.[11] In 2004, "Blow Up", Harris's first public wall collage was shown at the Rhona Hoffman gallery in Chicago. This led to a series of three other wall collages composed of materials, photographs and ephemera Harris collected including, Blow UP IV (Sevilla) which was made for the Bienal de Arte Contemporeano de Sevilla in Seville, Spain in 2006.[10]

In 2010 Gregory R. Miller & Co. published Excessive Exposure. The publication is the most definitive documentation of Harris' "Chocolate-Colored" portraits made with a large-format Polaroid camera over the past ten years.[12]

In 2011, The Studio Museum in Harlem exhibited some of these portraits, highlighting specific individual subjects.

In 2014, he was also featured on the Independent Lens documentary Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People produced by his brother Thomas Allen Harris.[13] In 2000 and 2001, he was a Fellow at American Academy in Rome.[14] In February 2015, he received the David C. Driskell Prize from the High Museum of Art[15] and, later in May, he also spoke at the Contemporary African Art Fair at Pioneer Works Center For Art and Innovation.[16]

He has also been exhibited in places such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art,[17] Venice Biennale,[1] Adamson Gallery, the Bruce High Quality Foundation University Gallery[18] Cornell University,[19] Neil L. and Angelica Rudenstine Gallery, W. E. B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University,[20] University of California at Santa Barbara,[21] Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale[22] and Center for the Arts, University at Buffalo,[23] Andy Warhol Museum[24] and Howard University Department of Art.[25] and magazines such as New York, Vibe and The New York Times (the latter at which he was a photojournalist). Mickalene Thomas cited Harris as an influence of hers[26] while Harris himself cited influences such as Caravaggio, Francis Bacon, Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Ashton Harris is represented by the Salon 94 in New York City. He currently lives in New York where is the assistant professor of art at New York University and formerly split his time between the New York and Accra, Ghana campuses.[27]


  • Cassel Oliver, Valerie, et al. Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 2013.
  • Ashton Harris, Lyle, et al. Lyle Ashton Harris. Published by Gregory R. Miller & Co. in collaboration with CRG Gallery, 2003.


  1. ^ a b Riley, Cheryl R. (July 2007). "Lyle Ashton Harris: a look through his camera's lens". Ebony. Vol. 62 no. 9. pp. 196–199. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Bright, Deborah (1998). Passionate Camera. USA and Canada: Routledge. p. 250. ISBN 0-415-14581-3.
  3. ^ a b "Oral History Interview with Lyle Ashton Harris, 2017 March 27-29". March 27–29, 2017. External link in |website= (help)CS1 maint: date format (link)
  4. ^ a b c Perchuk, Posner, Andrew, Helaine (1995). The Masculine Masquerade. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: The MIT Press. p. 127. ISBN 0-262-16154-0.
  5. ^ "Lyle Ashton Harris". Retrieved July 13, 2015.
  6. ^ "'Black Male'". The Day. December 1, 1994. Retrieved July 13, 2015.
  7. ^ Golden, Thelma (1994). Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art. New York, NY: Whitney Museum of American Art. ISBN 0-8109-6816-9.
  8. ^ Katz, Jonathan D. (2010). Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 1-58834-299-9.
  9. ^ Blessing, Jennifer (1997). Rrose is a Rrose is a Rrose: Gender Performance in Photography. 1071 Fifth Avenue New York, New York 10011: Guggenheim Museum Publications. p. 110. ISBN 0-8109-6901-7.
  10. ^ a b Coblentz, Cassandra (2008). Lyle Ashton Harris: Blow Up. New York, NY: Gregory R. Miller & Co. ISBN 0-9743648-9-4.
  11. ^ "Lyle Ashton Harris: CRG Gallery". November 1, 2003. Retrieved July 13, 2015.
  12. ^ Enwezor, Okwui (2010). Lyle Ashton Harris: Excessive Exposure. New York, NY: Gregory R. Miller & Co. ISBN 0-9743648-7-8.
  13. ^ "What's On Monday". February 16, 2015. Retrieved July 13, 2015.
  14. ^ "Artist Spotlight: Lyle Ashton Harris". February 10, 2015. Retrieved July 13, 2015.
  15. ^ "Culture Type: The Year in Black Art 2014". December 27, 2014. Retrieved July 13, 2015.
  16. ^ "1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair Comes to New York This Weekend". May 15, 2015. Retrieved July 13, 2015.
  17. ^ "He Is Some Body: Lyle Ashton Harris's Enigmatic Self-Portraits". February 1, 2008. Retrieved July 13, 2015.
  18. ^ "Bruce High Quality Foundation Launches FUG Art Space". April 9, 2015. Retrieved July 13, 2015.
  19. ^ "New season dawns for the Cornell". January 19, 2007. Retrieved July 13, 2015.
  20. ^ "Documenting life on Ghana shore". December 10, 2008. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved July 13, 2015. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  21. ^ "Ucsb Art, Design and Architecture Museum Exhibitions Examine Art and Politics". States News Service. October 17, 2013. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved July 13, 2015. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  22. ^ "Today". The News. November 1, 1996. Retrieved July 13, 2015. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  23. ^ "Lyle Ashton Harris: Blow Up at the UB Art Gallery". October 1, 2008. Retrieved July 13, 2015.
  24. ^ "Artists tackle sports images at Andy Warhol Museum". July 3, 2011. Retrieved July 13, 2015.
  25. ^ "HOWARD UNIVERSITY PRESENTS 21ST ANNUAL JAMES A. PORTER COLLOQUIUM ON AFRICAN AMERICAN ART". States News Service. March 23, 2010. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved July 13, 2015. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  26. ^ "Mickalene Thomas's Adventures in Italy". June 17, 2015. Retrieved July 13, 2015.
  27. ^ "Lyle Ashton Harris". May 22, 2015. Retrieved July 13, 2015.

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