HAVE YOU HEARD OF CARRIE MAE WEEMS?
Photo credit: Unknown
Carrie Mae Weems (b. 1953 in Portland, OR, now living in Brooklyn and Syracuse, NY) is a visual artist who has developed an infinitely complex body of work using photographs, text, fabric, audio, digital images, installation, and video, although she is most well-known for her photographic works. Her work is about “considerably more” than race/racism or gender/sexism (or identity, class, culture, relationships). Indeed, in all its complexity and multiplicity, her art is more essentially about the humanity of the person that shines through; race and gender are simply the doorways.
None describe her work better than she: “Despite the variety of my explorations, throughout it all it has been my contention that my responsibility as an artist is to work, to sing for my supper, to make art, beautiful and powerful, that adds and reveals; to beautify the mess of a messy world, to heal the sick and feed the helpless; to shout bravely from the roof-tops and storm barricaded doors and voice the specifics of our historic moment.” (Carriemaeweems.net)
To name only a few series from her vast body of work over the last 25 years: “Ain’t Jokin’” (1987-1988) is a series confronting internalized racism, racial stereotypes, and humanity; “The Kitchen Table Series” (1990) tackles sexism, racism, the complexity of monogamy, as well as parent/child relationships and the bonds of female friendships; in the 1990s she broadened her scope to the African diaspora (and spent a lot of time in Africa photographing) beginning with the “Sea Islands” series, then “Africa,” then “Slave Coast”….and eventually “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried” a truth-telling series of photographs that incorporates text and hits you right in the heart, in the gut, and makes you sit up straight and take notice.
She has oftentimes staged herself in her photographs in very powerful ways, as the main character in “The Kitchen Table Series,” “Framed by Modernism,” “Not Manet’s Type,” “Dreaming in Cuba,” “The Louisiana Project,” “Beacon,” “Roaming,” and “Museums” and more…using her own figure as witness to help bring the viewer into the scene emotionally.
And these examples of her work are just the tip of the iceberg. I’m not even mentioning her very long list of video projects or expanding on her commendable work in the public arts arena, for instance, with her project Operation: Activate which fights gun violence or Social Studies 101 which introduces high school students to careers in the arts. This woman is mega-prolific and unstoppable! She reports that she works nearly every single day, whether in her studio or on location around the world.
In the last two years ALONE, Weems has received numerous, outstanding awards including being named a 2013 MacArthur Foundation Fellow—dubbed the “genius grant.” Her reaction to receiving this award: “Not me! Can’t be me! (she says choked up) Gotta be a mistake. Then I put my head down and I cried, I cried.” Also in 2014, she received a BET Honors Award and was honored at the Guggenheim International Gala. This year, she was an honored at the American Academy in Rome and only two months ago, became a recipient of W. E. B. Du Bois Medal. Wow!
Once again, a simple blog post does not do justice to this phenomenal woman and artist and her life’s work that is very much alive and well and evolving before our eyes, ears, and hearts and should be for decades to come. See her work in person if you can. Look her up, listen to her voice; hear the depth of her soul and wisdom. She’ll change you. Dear Ms. Weems: A humble, tear-filled-eyes bow of respect to you.
Carrie Mae Weems is African American artist #9 of 25 in my project “Have You Heard Of…?”
Carrie Mae Weems
Photo owned by the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Carrie Mae Weems “Mirror, Mirror” from the series “Ain’t Jokin” 1987-1988
gelatin silver print
Carrie Mae Weems Four images from "The Kitchen Table Series," 1990
Carrie Mae Weems From the “Slave Coast Series” 1993
Carrie Mae Weems Four images from the series "Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried," 1995-1996 33 tones prints in total
Dye coupler prints under etched glass in wood frames stained black
Carrie Mae Weems From “Museums” series 2006
A series exploring who has access to be shown in museums (speaking to people of color and their exclusion from museums), who is on the inside, who is on the outside, using herself as a witness to the museum from the outside.
Carrie Mae Weems From Social Studies 101, Operation: Activate, 2011