Yesterday, I finally made it out to the Gugenheim to see the Carrie Mae Weems exhibition. I'm so glad that I did. I never had such an emotional and cathartic response to an art exhibition before and I am still left contemplating what I saw.
Carrie's weight carries a lot of emotional gravity because she directly confronts issues related to racism, womanhood, stereotypes, exclusion, marginalization, love and loss, and beauty, all of which are themes that are of great interest to me as well. The staging in her photographs is simple; she puts herself in each image as a way of narrating a sries of complex emotions and feelings that are so universal that when I saw her series of works, I felt like she had been inside my head.
There's so much to say and I'm not sure where to begin but I'll start with two series in the show that stood out to me the most. The first one was a story of a relationship between a man and the woman, from their sweet beginnings to their bitter end. Each image that represented a stage in their relationship was beautifully narrated by Carrie's words (she writes beautifully; if she ever writes a novel, I'll be all over it.). The story told the dance that couples often do their relationships; trying to find that happy medium while still holding onto their own uniqueness and desires, all the while fearing they will be devoured by each other. I was amazed by how much she could convey these sentiments through such simple staging in her photographs. Each vignette took place at the kitchen table like the above image.
The second series that really took me was a collection of old photographs from the 1800s that she had discovered. Originally, the photographs seemed as if they were meant to portray black people in an unflattering light but Weems flips this attempt on its head by presenting the images in a red tint and writing words across them in glass that express the heart and soul of the subjects of each image. Her words not only challenge the racist implications of the photographer and bu they also restore dignity to the subject. I loved this series because she plainly calls out the ugliness of racism and its impact on people who are constantly under the boot of discrimination. While I was at the exhibition, I kept wondering how non-minorities reacted to these images. Did it made them think deeper about their own stereotypes or inaction when they bore witness to racial discrimination being inflicted on others? Did it affect how they saw black people and black women?
I think the thing I like the most about Carrie Mae Weems work is her directness and how she creates on her paper the change she wishes to see in the world. She's willing to use herself as a subject as a way of addressing the marginalization that black women often feel when they are represented in society. She discusses colorism in the black community by playing with words and tinted photographs. All of these images were empowering because they insisted, "I matter. We matter."
So, if you haven't gone to see the exhibition and you live in New York City, I urge you to walk, run, or gallop to see this it at the Guggenheim up until May 14. You will be so glad that you did.