Now, of course, the entire nation faces problems of police brutality against Black people; the exclusion of people of color from the museum canon; and the lack of representation of Black and brown in Hollywood. But those who have followed Weems throughout his 40-year practice through photography, video, installation, music and text say the artist has always been ahead of his time.
Beginning December 2, in a strong indication that the world has caught up to it, Weems is taking over Park Avenue Armory’s massive Drill Hall with “The Shape of Things,” billed as “the largest, most important exhibition of multidisciplinary artistic work.” practice in the last ten years.”
“He’s a 21st century seer,” he said. Sarah Elizabeth LewisAssociate professor of art and architectural history and African and African-American studies at Harvard University. “Carrie has been at the forefront of tackling issues not only related to our humanity but also to their racial dimensions. Looking to explore the history of injustice and redemption? You have to understand the work of Carrie Mae Weems.”
In a recent interview – which had to be done by phone due to fear of exposure to Covid (which later came back negative), the 68-year-old artist highlighted her longstanding commitment to social justice.
“I’ve been working with these ideas for years,” he said. “They’re not trending for me.”
Weems added that the showdown about the race in museums after the murder of George Floyd was partly “a knee-jerk reaction to what’s happened over the past two years,” adding that people of color were suddenly pushed into the positions they should have been. they have always had access.
But Weems, whose voice is both squirming and stagnant, said he was also hopeful about the potential for lasting change at this intersection. “I’m excited for this moment, but also a little scared for this moment,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how institutions are negotiating their future and what that might mean because I don’t think we really know yet. We’re kind of swimming in the dark right now, trying to figure out how to get this ball up the hill one day at a time without really understanding how steep the hill is.”
That’s one reason why the Armory show, along with his workouts, includes “meetings,” which are typically muted meetings of experts talking to each other, which Weems deems necessary to move forward. Armory’s programmed list of attendees from the artist Torkwase Dyson writer and curator Simon Wu.
“I’m interested in how you connect people on specific ideas and platforms,” Weems said. “One of the things many institutions say is, ‘We don’t know African American artists, we don’t know brown curators, we don’t know who they are’. Here are 150 to choose from.”
Perhaps he is best known for “Kitchen Table Series” (1989-90), in a series of staged scenes involving the artist’s exploration of femininity – raising children, negotiating a relationship – Weems constantly creates projects critical of culture.
In turn, culture has acknowledged her contributions: she received a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation in 2013, and the following year, she became the first Black woman it has ever had. A retrospective at the Guggenheim.
The idea for the Arsenal show came up a day later. collection It was organized there in December 2017, a little over a year after the election of President Donald J. Trump. “I thought a lot about the history of circus politics and circus politics and violence and how to bring all these ideas together,” he said.
Trump’s presidency, along with what he saw as an overt response to President Barack Obama because of his race, made Weems want to explain how the country is dealing with “America’s browning.”
“How will institutions negotiate this, whether it’s museums, galleries, or institutions like the Armory?” Said.
Among the new works on display, which runs until December 31, Weems also sought to explore whether the signs of progress caused by the Black Lives Matter movement could be more than a temporary crisis of national conscience. “How sustainable is this?” said. “How we move forward now is a very deep and important question.”
The demonstration is a Cyclorama (a panoramic view inside a cylindrical platform) of new and existing film footage and its 2012 “Lincoln, Lonnie and Ben”, a digital video projection using an optical illusion that addresses Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address.
The Armory exhibition also includes a performance series called “The Land of Broken Dreams”. Begins on December 9 It includes artist talks, poetry readings, concerts and scientific discussions.
The current significance of Weems’ questions “talks to the cyclical nature of our history,” he said. Avery Willis HoffmanArtistic director of the Brown Art Institute at Brown University, participating in the Armory show. “We have to keep getting back to some of these difficult and challenging issues.”
In 1984, Weems said he learned that the U.S. population would be dominated by non-whites in the next 20 years, which triggered a series of demographic studies he has maintained to date, in part through public discourse.
“Carrie is telling the truth when she’s able to bring the people she’s tutored and teaches into the room,” said Thomas J. Lax, media and performance curator at the Museum of Modern Art. “With his immediacy and sense of mise-en-scène, he created a mode of engagement where you have to be there, participate.”
Weems often openly uses his art as a form of activism. During the pandemic, a public art campaign To draw attention to the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on the Black, Latino and Native American communities. “Resist Covid/Take 6!” — posting one and a half meters of social distancing — art-focused messages appeared on billboards, shopping bags, buttons, and fridge magnets.
“I find myself very interested in trying to address the issues of my time in the best way I know,” she said.
Weems said she tried to use her work as a way to develop and encourage empathy, even white supremacist groups to understand what they might oppose. walking in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.
“When I think about these forces on the right, I sympathize because I am human,” he said. “A change is coming that doesn’t reflect who you think you are – I understand that fear. Then maybe there’s room for some dialogue, some sort of progress.”
This effort to reach humanity set Weems’ 2016 project in motion. “Grace Notes: Thoughts for Now” a theatrical piece inspired by a white gunman murder of nine people At a historic Black church in downtown Charleston, SC told the story of a woman who, a year ago, tried to bury her brothers.
“I have this beautifully recorded conversation with my mom talking about the meaning of grace as a space of deep compassion, understanding, charity, and love,” Weems said. “It was thanks to him answering this question for me that I was able to achieve a certain level of clarity.”
Weems recalled another formative conversation from the time he left home to pursue his career as an artist with his mother, Carrie Polk, a former factory and still living domestic worker. “I was wondering what my mom thought of me, and she called me one day when I was living in San Francisco and she said, ‘I wish I had done with my life what you did to yours,'” Weems said. “He gave me a lot of confidence. He encouraged me even though I was wild and crazy and lived alone at a very young age.”
Her father, Myrlie Weems, died It was similarly inspiring in 2002. The owner of a rescue company called Speedy and Son also had a creative streak, singing on stage with Sam Cooke in the Mississippi Delta with his brothers. “He told me at a very young age that I had the right to be in any room,” Weems said. “This great lesson has anchored me so deeply.”
Born the second of seven children in Portland, Ore in 1953, Weems became interested in painting and drawing at an early age. “I remember going up to the loft and pretending to be somewhere else,” she said, “dancing around the living room and pretending to be a ballerina.”
She had a 16-year-old daughter named Faith C. Weems, who is now working with children in California. The following year, she joined Anna Halprin’s experimental San Francisco Dancers Workshop and later moved to New York City to study photography at the Studio Museum in Harlem.
A boyfriend gave her a camera for her 20th birthday. “I got it like a fish throws it into the water,” Weems said. “I immediately saw it as a vehicle to take me into my life and into the world.”
He also met Black photographers, including Roy DeCarava and Kamoinge Atelier. “I thought, ‘This is where I want to be,'” Weems said.
After graduating from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia and MA in photography from the University of California, San Diego, Weems studied folklore at graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley.
In 1985, she married Jeff Hoone, who had recently left the position of director of photography for the nonprofit Light Work. Weems described him as “my most understanding friend in the world”. They live in Syracuse, NY, but they also have a home in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
“Clearly young artists today are descendants of Carrie Mae Weems, so it’s a great moment to showcase great work and new work,” said Tom Eccles, curator of the Armory exhibition. “Some artists need a moment’s change when you suddenly realize how relevant that work is.”
Eccles, executive director of the Bard College Center for Curatorial Studies, said he was surprised Weems asked him to work on his show. “I said to her, ‘Hey Carrie, I’m white,'” she said. “This doesn’t worry me,” he said.
The exhibition seems to reflect the artist’s status as a supreme member of the institution. But Weems said he’ll never feel it come or end.
“I consider myself an artist who is very concerned with certain concerns, and those concerns have yet to be met,” he said.
This is a lifelong struggle and does not end with the completion of a whole,” he added. “It’s a life.”