Photo by Jerry Klineberg
One of the leading women in photography today, and one of North America’s most influential contemporary artists, Carrie Mae Weems (b. 20th April 1953, Oregon, U.S.) has spent her career interrogating the paradigms of contemporary culture.
Recognised for her powerful explorations of relationships, sexism, and identity, her work has been lauded for its expert integration of both ‘radicalism’ and ‘beauty’ (Ernest Larson, Art in America).
Thematically diverse, Carrie has taken an equally creative approach to her practice, experimenting with media such as photographs, text, fabric, audio, digital images, installation, and video.
Carrie first became involved in the arts in 1965, upon forming an interest in street theatre and dance. Her foray into photography did not commence until 1973, when she received her first camera as a birthday gift from her then-boyfriend Raymond Marshall.
It was a transformative period for Carrie; in 1972, meeting Raymond had prompted her to join the Marxist organisation, of which he was also a part. She worked as an organiser within the movement for the next decade, her politics and photography blossoming in tandem.
The two inevitably intertwined, with Carrie turning her lens predominantly towards documentary work during this time.
Carrie’s career in photography gathered momentum following her first acquaintance with The Black Photographer’s Annual, published by a group of African-American artists in New York from 1973 to 1980.
Containing the work of eminent Black photographers such as Shawn Walker, Beuford Smith, and Anthony Barboza – the latter for whom Carrie began working as an assistant – the publication led Carrie to New York and eventually to the completion of her first photographic series, Family Pictures and Stories, 1981–1982.
A collection of photographs, text, and spoken word, the work depicts the everyday experiences of Black families and communities across North America, challenging the homogenous narratives popularised via mainstream media.
As representations of family dynamics became a hallmark of Carrie’s practice she became an explicitly feminist photographer, with her oeuvre developing a distinctive, powerful feminist perspective.
The Kitchen Table Series (1990) constitutes an extraordinary microcosm of domestic relationships; within the controlled confines of twenty photographs and fourteen text panels, Carrie expertly orchestrates a diorama of apparently mundane activity electrified by the subtle yet potent ‘battle around the family, the battle around monogamy, the battle around polygamy, the battle between the sexes’ (Carrie Mae Weems). The series has been lauded as one of the most significant photographic achievements in contemporary art.
Most recently, Carrie was recognised for her lifelong commitment to her craft as co-recipient of the Artes Mundi 9 Prize. Foregrounding several significant works from her extensive body of work, the supplementary Artes Mundi 9 exhibition includes photographs from her recent series RESIST COVID TAKE 6!, a public art campaign which raises awareness of ‘the greater impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black, brown, and Indigenous communities, a result of economic and social inequities’ (Brooklyn Museum).
Using ‘the visual language of advertising’ by ‘combining photographs, text, and bold graphics’, the work demonstrates how the intentional application of familiar aesthetics can augment the reclamation of narrative agency.
During her career, Carrie has been awarded numerous prestigious grants, fellowships, and other accolades, including one of the first US Department of State’s ‘Medals of Arts’ for her commitment to the State Department’s ‘Art in Embassies’ programme, an initiative to install permanent art collections in US embassies overseas.
She is currently represented in public and private collections around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of Modern Art, NY; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and The Tate Modern, London.