Celestia Morgan: REDLINE

October 05, 2019 - February 16, 2020 - Pizitz Gallery

Celestia Morgan: REDLINE presents a series of photographs and small sculptures by artist Celestia Morgan that explores redlining in Birmingham, Alabama. Beginning in the 1930s, the Federal Housing Administration systematically denied mortgages to prospective homeowners in order to prevent residents from building wealth on the basis of race, religion, and immigration status. This practice of housing discrimination was called redlining after the red lines drawn by banks and government officials on housing maps and disproportionately affected Black, Latinx, and Jewish residents. These red lines designated African American or Latinx neighborhoods and singled them out as “undesirable” for investment. Birmingham-based artist Morgan was raised and currently lives in neighborhoods that were once redlined, inspiring her three-part series that examines the practice through photographs of houses, silhouettes of neighborhoods, and images of the interstate that divides this city. 

In her sky photographs, Morgan places the silhouettes of Birmingham neighborhoods redlined in the 1933 Home Owners’ Loan Corporation map against photographs of idyllic blue skies. Using the familiar idiom “the sky’s the limit,” Morgan critically examines the role of redlining in stifling the economic and social aspirations of those communities. 

Morgan’s photographs of Birmingham houses show some of the homes with dignity, seeing both the value in the structures themselves and the worthiness of those who live in them. In other works, we see the effects of redlining on the inhabitants of the homes, whose presence is implied through materials piled after an eviction. When seen alongside her photographs of Interstate 20/59, these photographs of Birmingham homes make visible how urban planning continues the city’s history of redlining. Originally designed to physically separate neighborhoods in northern Birmingham from the resources of central and south Birmingham, the interstate is now being rebuilt at a higher elevation to encourage traffic flow to the city’s center. Here its monumental presence looms over Birmingham neighborhoods and homes.

Though redlining officially came to an end in 1968 with the passage of the Fair Housing Act, its impact continues to perpetuate the racial income gap in the United States. Homeownership is a primary way to build wealth, yet discriminatory lending practices still exist in the US today and still fewer resources continue to be directed toward low-income neighborhoods. 

Celestia Morgan was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1981 and continues to live and work locally. She earned her BFA in photography from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2012 and her MFA from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa in 2017. Morgan’s work is in the permanent collection of numerous museums including Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Birmingham Museum of Art.