Through her immersive drawing installations and painstaking attention to detail, Lava Thomas creates opportunities to celebrate the beauty of African American life. Lava Thomas: Homecoming brings three bodies of her work together for the first time, Looking Back (2015–2021), Mugshot Portraits: Women of the Montgomery Bus Boycott (2018–), and Decatur (2022). These works demonstrate Thomas’s dedication to exploring personal and cultural narratives of survival and bravery against the odds.
Thomas’s line-stroke drawings, Mugshot Portraits: Women of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, depict women who were arrested for participating in the 1955–56 boycott. Across a diversity of age, size, and class, these women planned and participated in the first mass action of the modern Civil Rights Movement. Thomas reinterprets their mugshots found in the criminal archive and translates them into life-size, loving homages. In Looking Back, she presents four drawings of women whose photographs she found in her family photo album, inspired by the strong presence communicated through their pictures. Decatur consists of Thomas’s drawing of her great-great-great-grandfather, Charles H. Arthur, as an elder along with fourteen prints of documents—affidavits, depositions, and a report from the Department of the Interior—that detail the eight-year-long legal battle Arthur fought to receive his army pension. These works visualize the importance of photography, portraiture, and history, further demonstrating Thomas's commitment to making the past part of the present.
Lava Thomas tackles issues of race, gender, representation and memorialization through a multidisciplinary practice that spans drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, and site-specific installations. Drawing from her family’s Southern roots, current and historical socio-political events, intersectional feminism and African American protest and devotional traditions, Thomas’s practice centers ideas that amplify visibility, healing, and empowerment in the face of erasure, trauma and oppression.