Posted: December 10, 2018

Chazen Museum of Art in Wisconsin to open “Southern Rites”

Chazen Museum of Art in Wisconsin to open "Southern Rites"
IMAGE CREDIT: Gillian Laub, (American b. 1975) Amber and Reggie, Mount Vernon, Georgia 2011, inkjet print, © Gillian Laub, courtesy of Benrubi Gallery. 

Photography and film exhibition by UW alumna examining issues of race and youth identity will be on view Jan. 25-May 18, 2019

Madison, Wis. – In 2002, photographer and filmmaker Gillian Laub traveled to Mount Vernon, Georgia, to document the lives of teenagers in the American South. Laub photographed surrounding Montgomery County over the following decade, returning even in the face of growing – and eventually violent – resistance on the part of some community members.  Southern Rites, on view at the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin–Madison from Jan. 25-May 18, 2019, is a powerful and moving visual portrait of individuals struggling to confront longstanding issues of race and equality.

Laub, who graduated from UW–Madison with a degree in comparative literature before studying at the International Center of Photography, was first sent to Georgia to explore Mount Vernon’s practice of hosting two proms: one for white students, where no black students were allowed, and one for black students where white students were allowed. Her photos, which were eventually published in The New York Times Magazine, brought tremendous attention and scrutiny to the community, and in 2009, the proms were integrated for the first time. Two years later, a young black man, one of Laub’s previous subjects, was shot and killed by an older white man. Laub realized a deeper story, beyond segregated high school rituals, was unfolding.

Southern Rites includes more than 40 full-color photographs along with yearbooks, letters and prom memorabilia gathered from Montgomery Country High School students. The photos and objects are accompanied by transcripts of first-person interviews of the subjects and those involved in the events. It also features a short film entitled “Just a Black Boy.”

“The stories told in this exhibition are sometimes beautiful, often tragic and reflective of the incredibly difficult conversations our country is having around race and the history of segregation,” said Amy Gilman, director of the Chazen Museum of Art. “Our UW community is confronting these issues, as well, and we are looking forward to having Gillian’s work in Madison. We are hopeful that it will spark reflection and dialogue on campus and beyond.”

 Southern Rites will be on view through May 18, 2019, and like all Chazen Museum of Art programs, is free and open to the public. No tickets are required.


A wide range of programs will be offered around the exhibition’s focus on race and identity, including film screenings, lectures and musical performances. A Race & Faith Workshop, hosted in conjunction with UW Hillel and Carolyn Dorfman Dance Studio, will take place in March, and a screening of the HBO documentary Southern Rites, directed by Gillian Laub and executive produced by John Legend, is scheduled for April 2019.


Southern Rites is organized by the International Center of Photography, New York. Presentation at the Chazen Museum of Art is supported by a generous gift from the Brittingham Trust and in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


The Chazen Museum of Art opened in 1970 as the Elvehjem Art Center to further the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s mission of education, research and public service. In 1978 it became the Elvehjem Museum of Art, and in 2005, in honor of a lead gift toward expansion, was renamed the Chazen Museum of Art. The expansion opened in October 2011, doubling the size of the museum.

The Chazen is home to the second-largest collection of art in Wisconsin: more than 22,000 works include paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, photographs and decorative arts. The permanent collection covers diverse historical periods, cultures and geographic locations, from ancient Greece, Western Europe and the Soviet Empire, to Moghul India, eighteenth-century Japan and modern Africa. The museum also presents frequent temporary exhibitions that highlight the collection or are borrowed from other museums, broadening the offerings to visitors.

As a state educational resource, the Chazen offers tours, talks by artists and scholars and other educational programs and outreach for schoolchildren, college students and art lovers of all ages. Special events include exhibition receptions, family days, gallery nights, chamber concerts and film screenings. These offerings are free and open to the public.

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