Carrie Mae Weems: Photographer for All Seasons

SAMPLE EXCERPT:

It's one of the reasons that I'm interested in using my platform at the Guggenheim to bring forth voices that are rarely heard together. If you invite only African-Americans to the table, then you're participating in your own isolation."

Indeed, issues of isolation, personal identity, and racism feature prominently in Weems work. Deborah Solomon, a critic at WNYC, noted that Weems seems to frequently appear in her photographs with her back facing the camera, and she may be juxtaposed next to a door. It is as if, says Solomon, "The question she is always asking is: where can I enter? Where as a black artist can I enter art history, where can I enter the world?" Indeed, it this quality of Weems photographs to be at once intimate and provocative that contributes to a sense of universality. "She has a unique ability, I think," said Solomon, "to meditate on the large themes of history, such as injustice, while exploring tiny moments that add a lot of humanity to the photographs."

Weems is an artist who is definitely socially motivated to highlight the most challenging and intractable issues of our time -- of any time, one would suppose: gender, class, race, equality, and justice. Over the last 30 some odd years, Weems has been our conscious and our voice, using autobiographical and documentary series of photographs to present complex contemporary art. Her watershed body of work, Kitchen Table Series (1990), that included audio recordings, written text, and videos featured Weems as a subject in many of the photographs. The series is philosophically and conceptually complex, with a startling contemporariness despite the passage of nearly 25 years. It is this timeless capacity of Weems work that enables her to examine history and while establishing a current juxtaposition of the issues she poses for consideration and understanding. Although Weems primarily features blacks in her work, she intends for "people of color to stand for the human multitudes" and strives for resonance with all audiences who view and experience her work.

Conclusion

When following the work of a woman artist, it easy to take up the pieces of her work and define them as feminist. This is particularly true when portions of a body of work are autobiographical or, as in Weems situation, self-portraits. A distinct advantage of having access to a retrospective that covers 30 plus years is that a level of perspective becomes available simply because of the access to the evolution of the artist's work over several decades. Weems body of work has at times focused on the issues of women and has frequently focused on the issues of race, and occasionally focused on the issues of women of color. The diversity of voice and portrayal that Weems has exhibited over her career makes it impossible to categorize her specifically in relation to a particular frame of reference, other than that of the universality of human interactions that are skewed by prejudice, greed, power, and identity.

References

Cotter, H. (2014, January 23). Testimony of a clear-eyed witness: Carrie Mae Weems charts the black experience in photographs. Art & Design: The New York Times. Retrieved http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/arts/design/carrie-mae-weems-charts-the-black-experience-in-photographs.html

Picard, C. (2014, January 15). Carrie Mae Weems on Mike Kelley, the Obamas, and her sprawling Guggenheim survey. [Blouin Art International. Retrieved http://www.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/1001189/carrie-mae-weems-on-mike-kelley-the-obamas-and-her-sprawling

Regatao, G. (2014, January 26). A black photographer looking for her way in. WNYC News [Webpage]. Retrieved http://www.wnyc.org/story/african-american-photographer-looking-her-way/

Wallis, B. (1995, Summer). Black Bodies, White Science: Louis Agassiz's Slave Daguerreotypes, American Art, 19(2), 38-61. Retrieved http://www.jstor.org/stable/3109184

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