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“Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video” at the Guggenheim weaves together photographs, videos, and texts from the artist’s career, offering a powerful narration that is both poignant and vulnerable.
Split up chronologically over two galleries, the viewer is able to wander through her artistic transformation. From her early project “Family Pictures and Stories,” Weems takes the role of a documentarian, capturing honest, perceptive images of those she grew up with. In “Ain’t Jokin,’” she adds captions to her photographs, which convey a double consciousness, critical of American racism. It is in this series that she confronts black stereotypes and Western notions of beauty. In one photograph a black man objectively holds a watermelon, in another a black woman eats chicken, both doing so with stoic indifference as to intentionally strip the derogatory association from these representations. “The Kitchen Table Series” are moody family portraits where Weems explores the roles of women in the community and at home.
“Weems positions herself as history’s ghost,” writes Nancy Princethal in Art In America. This is most precisely realized in her “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried,” a rouge-toned series of appropriated historical photographs overlaid with Weem’s expository text. The artist moves through the history of American slavery, using images of Africans taken by whites adding her own text that exposes the essentialism perpetuated by these images. The series combines outrage with her caustic edge, making Weems’ presence clearly felt.
Weems has travelled around the United States, Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean, intending to investigate underlying effects of imperialism and racism, and foster communication globally. She states that she wants “people of color to stand for the human multitudes” and that her work is more about the human condition than specifically African-American issues.
“Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video” includes more than 120 works and will be on view at the Guggenheim through May 14.