Carrie Mae Weems
Carrie Mae Weems is one of the most influential contemporary American artists working today, who for over thirty years has, through her work, investigated and focused on the serious issues that face African Americans, centred on family relationships, cultural identity, sexism, class, political systems, and the consequences of power. More recently she sees her work as speaking beyond the Black experience to encompass the complexity of the broader human experience and social inclusion. While best known for working with photography, her complex and multi-award winning body of work employs images through installation, performance and video, charting a move from the documentary to the creation of staged pictures that construct narratives. She has often used herself within her work, using the constructed image as a vehicle for questioning ideas and as a means to represent images of black communities, especially women, often excluded from mainstream representation. These bodies of photographic work have opened the space for successive generations of other Black women artists.
Credit: Carrie Mae Weems. Photo: Mickalene Thomas
Artes Mundi 9 Exhibition
While best known for working with photography, Carrie Mae Weems presents a range of recent and new work that continues her ongoing investigations centred on family relationships, cultural identity, sexism, class, political systems and the consequences of power.
At the National Museum Cardiff, a complex installation is presented across three major works, all employing images that draw from the documentary tradition of image-making to the creation of staged pictures that construct narratives. Repeating the Obvious reiterates at differing sizes an ethereal depiction of a hooded Black youth to create an immersive field of images. While multi-various, it is the same image repeated over and over, appearing not as an individual but as an image playing with and inverting a stereotype, epitomising the homogenisation, where this individual can no longer be recognised. As equally unrecognisable as he is significant – a representation of the generalisation and treatment of Black men within western media – the very obvious absence of focus in the images speaks to identity and personality, reminiscent of how often the media chooses to depict Black men.
A selection of photographs from the series Constructing History re-enact iconic moments from the 1960s produced in an obvious studio environment. The chosen moments are about violence and social upheaval and demonstrate disruption in the path of 20th Century history and thinking. With young people acting out famous archetypal moments of assassination, witness and mourning, a profound meaning unfolds in their staged theatricality pictured in images such as Mourning, where we see a re-enactment of a photo from the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. Here we witness an intimate moment with his daughter Bernice resting her head on her Mother, Coretta Scott King’s lap.
Alongside these existing works and central to the exhibition is a new multi-image work, The Push, The Call, The Scream, The Dream, developed as a response to the recent death in 2020 of American statesman and civil rights leader, John Lewis and the larger social and political changes and situation globally. Against the context of the global movement of Black Lives Matter, this work focuses on moments of intimacy, mourning, humanity and consequence, Weems using and reframing selected images from her own past works alongside archival images, as an invitation and a reminder to find our voices and be heard.
Weems uses the constructed image as a vehicle for questioning received ideas and as a means to represent images of those communities, especially Black and women, often excluded from mainstream representation. At Chapter, a series of large-scale billboards and poster works from her recent and ongoing public art campaign, RESIST COVID TAKE 6! focus on the global pandemic that continues to affect us all, and in particular its impact on people of colour. Here image and text combine to speak toward a more hopeful future.
Carrie Mae Weems (b 1953, USA; lives and works in Syracuse, New York) has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions at major international museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Frist Center for Visual Art, and more recently her major retrospective travelled across the US before its final iteration at the Solomon Guggenheim Museum in New York. Weems has received numerous awards, grants and fellowships, including the prestigious Prix de Roma, The National Endowment of the Arts, The Alpert, The Anonymous was a Woman, and The Tiffany Awards. In 2012, Weems was presented with one of the first US Department of State’s Medals of Arts in recognition for her commitment to the State Department’s Art in Embassies programme. In 2013 she received the MacArthur ‘Genius’ grant as well as the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Carrie Mae Weems is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery, New York and Galerie Barbara Thumm, Berlin.