Portraits of Yoga: Black Baptist Minister Meets KKK in Art

Baptist Churchgoer/White Supremacist, 2004/2003

 In America, the chasm between rich and poor is growing, the clash between conservatives and liberals is strengthening, and even good and evil seem more polarized than ever before. At the heart of this collection of portraits is my desire to remind us that we were all equal, until our environment, circumstances, or fate, molded and weathered us into whom we have become.

Artist and photographer Mark Laita, on his photo series, Created Equal

Take a quick glance at the images on this page. I dare you not to. They are from a series of work by Los Angeles based Mark Laita, who steps behind the camera in both the commercial world and the art world. In Created Equal, Laita juxtaposes two images of people or groups who are divided not only by the two photo frames, but by “circumstances, fate, or environment.”

Once we read the captions, we see the illusive line drawn in the sand between two radically opposing demographics (such as a black Baptist minister next to Ku Klux Klan members, robe-clad, the lot of them). Beyond the evocative, brilliant portraiture, qualified in their own aesthetic right, Laita’s over-arching point is simple:

We are all created equal.

As a yogi, I, too, hold that truth to be self-evident. Being a bleeding heart chakra liberal, I’m listening in the choir as we’re shown how the rich deserve no more rights than the poor. And, being a fool for provocative imagery, well, preach on, Reverend Laita.

I recently interviewed Mark Laita about his Created Equal series (it is now a book) for Yoga Modern’s Art Current. Though I have a background as a curator of contemporary art and found myself wanting to explore his work from an art historical approach, what really drew me to share his work with our yoga community is the way his images challenge us to question yoga’s avowed democracy. Yoga means union, right?

We yogis are among the first to wave the “we are all equal” flag. But would we honestly walk the talk and bring equanimity (something we yoga teachers love to preach about) to our relations with these folk? Would we Wanderlusting liberals truly accept each of the people in Laita’s diptychs?

Would you have the white supremacist over for tea and cookies?

 Amish Teenagers/Punk Teenagers, 2004/2004

I want for us to talk about this, yogis, but first, let’s see what the artist had in mind:


Yoga Modern: Does spirituality inform your work in Created Equal?


Mark Laita: I don’t look at it as spirituality, you either understand the nature of the world or you don’t. One view lets you live in peace, the other gives you constant frustration. Then there’s also dumb luck, which plays a role in all of our lives.


YM: Do you believe we can change our fate? Have you seen any of the people you’ve photographed change theirs?


ML: Of course we can change our fate. I think one’s attitude and outlook dictate how we perceive things that happen to us. I’ve met people who have endured hell and are full of joy and life, and I’ve met others who are eternal victims who has endured very little.


YM: Anything else you’d like to add?


ML: As I see people, I am amazed how circumstances, fate, or our environment direct us into who we have become. What judgement am I making by showing any two images together? Created Equal simply shows real examples of these ironic twists of fate….Life can be painful and funny at the same time. 

In the end, all that really matters are the meaningful relationships we have with each other.

I guess in some way these portraits are a study of all of our different paths and self-deceptions. All people on Earth, even radical Islamic fundamentalists, strive to be fulfilled. Shelter, food, companionship, and happiness are things most of us wish for our children and ourselves. Every person in this collection is aiming toward that goal.


Polygamist/Pimp, 2003/2004

I invite you to take a long, hard look at Mark Laita’s subjects. (More here.)

How do you reconcile your beliefs about equality when meeting someone whose views or lifestyle are diametrically opposed to your own? 

How do you engage with people who provoke more of the activist in you than the accepter?


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Barbra Brady is the Art Editor at Yoga Modern. She holds an MA in Museum Exhibition Theory & Cultural Studies, which she has exercised as a museum curator of contemporary art, nationally published writer, leader of a venerated nonprofit yoga retreat foundation, and now, yoga with a slant on channeling creative energy. When not practicing or teaching yoga in the tradition of her teacher, Yogarupa Rod Stryker (as a Certified Level IParaYoga teacher) or as an iRest Yoga Nidra practitioner, Barbra practices the yoga of “curiosity.” The curiosity that fuels her imagination may be through writing, curating, a turn of leaf or phrase, cinema, a century ride on her road bike… She’ll be sharing her curatorial picks and original musings, as she whispers in the ear of the Yoga Modern community: “Hey, look at this!” She lives in Sonoma, California, an Eden which naturally prompts her reflections on nature, food, and yes, wine (in meaningful moderation).

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