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Carla Jay Harris's mission is to document intellectual, emotional and psychological environments. She trained as a photographer; however, in recent years, she has developed a multidisciplinary practice that includes photography, installation, collage, and drawing. This transformation was inspired by her desire to bring together her interests in image-making, space, and spectatorship. Her interest in installation is rooted in her desire to create space for cross-cultural dialogue - creating such spaces is an outlet for political and social activism.

Harris's creative process begins with a lengthy period of research and writing. She draws from scholarly research, interviews, local history and her family archives to ground her work in lived experiences. From there, She uses the camera (in studio or on the street) to compose the foundational images of the work on film. Finally, she scans these images into her digital studio where they are combined with hand-drawn illustration and digital collage.

The most recent body of work, Celestial Bodies, was inspired by her experience as a third culture kid. As a child, she spent a significant chunk of her developmental years living outside the United States - primarily in Italy and Germany. This was a surreal experience that permanently shifted her perception of belonging. Othered by race, language, culture, and nationality, she was drawn to mythology. Throughout history, mythology has served humankind’s need to understand nature, society and our environment. Through myth-making she has been able to tap into a sense of belonging that extends from a connection to universal cultural concerns and narratives.

In creating Celestial Bodies, she was influenced by the works of Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Lorna Simpson, Frida Kahlo and Gustav Klimt. 

Born in Indianapolis, IN, but raised traveling the globe as the child of a military officer, Carla Jay Harris’ social and artistic development was impacted tremendously by the geopolitical and natural environments she encountered. She fervently believes that space (physical and physiological) has a fundamental, lasting impact on personal identity. While the environment around us is constantly evolving, photography has the power to capture humanity in a place, in a moment - transforming a flicker in time into a lasting, appreciable statement. Carla’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at the California African American Museum, CA; the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, CA; the Southern, Charleston, SC; Smack Mellon, Brooklyn, NY; and the Museum of Fine Arts Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada. She has been the beneficiary of several grants and fellowships, including the Hoyt Scholarship, Resnick Fellowship and a grant from the Pasadena Art Alliance. Carla completed undergraduate coursework at the School of Visual Arts in New York, received her Bachelor’s degree with distinction from the University of Virginia, and her MFA from UCLA in 2015. She currently lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.

Carla Jay Harris

Carla Jay Harris
Bitter Earth #1, 2018
Archival pigment print, edition of 10
24 x 24 in. Image | 28 x 28 in. Paper

Carla Jay Harris

Carla Jay Harris
Bitter Earth #2, 2018
Archival pigment print, edition of 10
24 x 24 in. Image | 28 x 28 in. Paper

Carla Jay Harris

Carla Jay Harris
Bitter Earth #3, 2018
Archival pigment print, edition of 10
24 x 24 in. Image | 28 x 28 in. Paper

Carla Jay Harris

Carla Jay Harris
Bitter Earth #4, 2018
Archival pigment print, edition of 10
24 x 24 in. Image | 28 x 28 in. Paper

Carla Jay Harris

Carla Jay Harris
Bitter Earth #5, 2018
Archival pigment print, edition of 10
24 x 24 in. Image | 28 x 28 in. Paper

Carla Jay Harris

Carla Jay Harris
Bitter Earth #6, 2018
Archival pigment print, edition of 10
24 x 24 in. Image | 28 x 28 in. Paper.

Carla Jay Harris

Carla Jay Harris
Bitter Earth #7, 2018
Archival pigment print, edition of 10
24 x 24 in. Image | 28 x 28 in. Paper

Carla Jay Harris

Carla Jay Harris
Bitter Earth #8, 2018
Archival pigment print, edition of 10
24 x 24 in. Image | 28 x 28 in. Paper.

Carla Jay Harris

Carla Jay Harris
Bitter Earth #9, 2018
Archival pigment print
24 x 24 in. Image | 28 x 28 in. Paper

Carla Jay Harris

Carla Jay Harris
Bitter Earth #10, 2018
Archival pigment print
24 x 24 in. Image | 28 x 28 in. Paper

Carla Jay Harris

Carla Jay Harris
Bitter Earth #11, 2018
Archival pigment print, edition of 10
24 x 24 in. Image | 28 x 28 in. Paper.

Carla Jay Harris

Carla Jay Harris
Bitter Earth #12, 2018
Archival pigment print, edition of 10
24 x 24 in. Image | 28 x 28 in. Paper

Carla Jay Harris

Carla Jay Harris
Bitter Earth Set 
12 Archival pigment prints
24 x 24 in. Image  | 28 x 28 in. paper (each)

Carla Jay Harris

Carla Jay Harris
Bitter Earth Wallpaper
Drchival pigment print
24 inch width, dimensions variable

The title of this series was taken from the 1960s Blues track "The Bitter Earth" written by Clyde Otis and sung by legendary blues women and rhythm and blues singers Dinah Washington, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, and Mikki Howard. Bitter Earth incorporates archival images from the 19th and 20th centuries that Harris sourced from the National Archives within an original wallpaper design that she created and inspired by a wallpaper in her grandmother's house in South Carolina. The design includes pomegranate fruit (a symbol of fertility), cotton, bluebirds, and vines. Bitter Earth can be presented as a site-specific installation with custom wallpaper covering the walls of the exhibition space, along with framed photographs and furniture to mimic a home interior. Bitter Earth was created in collaboration with historian Brenda E. Stevenson. Stevenson is the Nickoll Family Endowed Chair and Professor in the Department of History and African American Studies at UCLA. Her work is centered on race, gender, slavery, family and racial conflict in the U.S. and the Atlantic region.

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