Editor’s note: Carrie Mae Weems will give a public talk at the Nasher Museum this spring. We’ll keep everyone posted.
CHICAGO–We did not know what to expect when we were led behind a heavy black curtain into a dark room. Our eyes adjusted to a thick red velvet rope glowing before us but beyond reach. A ghost-like minstrel figure in striped pants and top hat appeared on stage. The jazz music was melancholy. The voice, ominous. “I’m gonna destroy you, because I want you to feel the suffering I know.”
We were not sitting in a haunted house, but we were chilled. The artist reminded us that our world is haunted by racism and stereotypes.
In her fourth solo show at Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago, Carrie Mae Weems dazzled us with her video, Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me – A story in 5 parts. Gallery literature explained, “Brought to life through the ‘Pepper’s ghost‘ illusion technique, this 18-minute theatrical video projection conflates the past with the present and evidences the fact that history is perpetually being re-written.”
This fall, Weems won a MacArthur “genius grant” Fellowship. The Nasher Museum acquired one of Weems’ important early works, Ode to Affirmative Action (below), which traveled around the country as part of the exhibition The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl.
More about the artist (from various sources): Weems is best known for her powerful and provocative photographs and videos that tell a story. She directly confronts stereotypes and confronts labels that are racist and sexist. Through jokes, songs, costumes, props and historical references, Weems examines the relationships between power and aesthetics. She refers to her personal history to get at broader truths. Weems adapts and appropriates archival images and restages famous news events but also creates new scenes in her work to talk about the ways that African Americans have been depicted for more than a century.
Weems was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1953, and currently lives and works in Brooklyn and Syracuse. She earned her B.F.A. from the California Institute of the Arts in 1981 and her M.F.A. from the University of California, San Diego, in 1984. Weems’ other awards include Anonymous Was a Woman Award (2007); Skowhegan Medal for Photography (2007); Rome Prize Fellowship (2006); and the Pollack-Krasner Foundation Grant in Photography (2002); among others. Weems’ work has appeared in major exhibitions at the Cleveland Museum of Art (20130, Guggenheim Museum in New York (2013), the Art Institute of Chicago (2011), Savannah College of Art and Design (2008); and Whitney Museum of American Art (1998); among others. Weems lives and works in Syracuse, New York.
ABOVE: Carrie Mae Weems, Ode to Affirmative Action, 1989. Photograph and record, Framed, 24 x 30 inches. Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Fund for Acquisitions, 2009.3.1. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.
TOP: Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me – A story in 5 parts, 2012. Video installation and mixed media, variable dimensions. Courtesy of Carrie Mae Weems and Rhona Hoffman Gallery.