Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of photography and video
“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 rooftops and storm barricaded doors and voice the specificity of our historical moment.”
—Carrie Mae Weems
In keeping with this passionate commitment to improving the human condition through her art, Carrie Mae Weems has produced a broad trove of intellectually challenging and aesthetically compelling work that addresses issues of race, gender, and class and places her at the forefront of contemporary art. Indeed, Holland Cotter of The New York Times recently stated, “No American photographer of the last quarter century … has turned out a more probing, varied, and moving body of work.” Yet to date there has not been a major museum survey devoted to this critically and socially engaged artist. The Frist Center for the Visual Arts, in Nashville, Tennessee, is pleased to be organizing a retrospective exhibition composed of approximately 150 photographs, videos, and installations from more than twenty-five series created over the last three decades. The works will come from major collecting institutions, private collections, and the artist’s own holdings.
Carrie Mae Weems was introduced to photography in the late 1970s after working as a professional modern dancer and grassroots political activist in California. She was attracted to the medium because of its ability to give tangible, visual form to abstract political and social theories, particularly those related to African American experiences. Weems is also a poetic storyteller; powerful written or spoken-word narratives often accompany her images. In her earliest work, the artist looked to her own life and family as case studies for exploring contemporary African American identity. Weems’s narrative soon broadened to more general aspects of the African Diaspora, from the legacy of slavery to the perpetuation of both debilitating stereotypes and nourishing folk traditions. A desire to more deeply examine the underlying causes and effects of social injustice spurred Weems to explore the histories of Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean, as well as the southeastern United States. Weems continues to question race, gender, and class restrictions, yet she often moves beyond the specific to address cross-cultural humanitarian struggles against empowerment and oppression. An element of universality is present throughout Weems’s work: while African Americans are typically the primary subjects, she wants “people of color to stand for the human multitudes” and for her work to resonate with audiences of all races.
An illustrated exhibition catalogue will be published in conjunction with the show by Yale University Press with scholarly essays by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Professor and Director, W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University; Franklin Sirmans, Curator of Contemporary Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Dr. Deborah Willis, Professor of Photography and Imaging, New York University; and Katie Delmez, Curator, Frist Center for the Visual Arts.
Frist Center for the Visual Arts: September 21, 2012–January 13, 2013
Portland Art Museum (OR): February 2–May 19, 2013
Cleveland Museum of Art: June 30–September 29, 2013
Cantor Center for the Visual Arts, Stanford University: October 2013–January 2014
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York: January 24–April 23, 2014
Katie Delmez, Curator
Image (top right): A Broad and Expansive Sky-Ancient Rome from Roaming, 2006. Digital c-print , 73 x 61 in. Private collection, Portland, Oregon