Carrie Mae Weems: Reflections for Now 22 June – 3 September 2023 Barbican Art Gallery London
Barbican Art Gallery is proud to present the first major solo exhibition of Carrie Mae Weems in a UK institution. Widely considered to be one of the most influential American artists working today, Weems is celebrated for her exploration of cultural identity, power structures, desire, and social justice through a body of work that develops questioning narratives around race, gender, history, class and their systems of representation.
Highlighting her remarkably diverse and radical practice, this survey brings together an outstanding selection of photographic series, films, and installations spanning over three decades, many of which have never been seen before in the UK. Presenting the development of her unique poetic gaze and formal language from the early 1990s to the present day, this exhibition reflects on Weems’s pioneering career.
On display are works from her early iconic Kitchen Table Series (1990) which explores how power dynamics are articulated in the domestic sphere and the potential of the home as a space for resistance, to her acclaimed series Roaming (2006) and Museums (2016) where Weems’s muse confronts architecture as the materialisation of political and cultural power. Her oeuvre challenges dominant ideologies and historical narratives created by and disseminated within science, architecture, photography, and mass media. Activism is central to Weems’s artistic practice, as she has stated: “My responsibility as an artist is to work, to sing for my supper, to make art, beautiful and powerful, that adds and reveals; to beautify the mess of a messy world, to heal the sick and feed the helpless; to shout bravely from the roof-tops and storm barricaded doors and voice the specifics of our historic moment.”
Weems came to prominence in the early 1980s through photographic work that questions how the representation of the Black subject, particularly within the United States, has historically reproduced systemic racism and inequality.
Highlight works in the exhibition include From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1995–6), a series which appropriates 19th and 20th century photographs of African and African American people to underline how the representation of this diaspora has been historically reduced to a set of degrading stereotypes. These works are presented alongside more recent works such as Constructing History (2008), in which Weems worked with college students to recreate landmark momenmts in twentieth century history to interrogate how they still affect our present, and Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me (2012), an installation that, inspired by the Pepper’s Ghost theatres of the 19th century, examines how the collective traumas of the past are being constantly renegotiated.
The largest presentation of the artist’s multi-disciplinary work in the UK to date, the exhibition also captures the performative and cinematic nature of Weems’s artistic expression, featuring seven-chapter panoramic film The Shape of Things (2021) focusing on the current political climate and the consequences of a long-lasting history of structural oppression and violence in the US. Weems’s lyrical sensibility encourages the viewer to move through the work and become a participant, to confront their own prejudices, and to claim history as their own.
Weems populates the gallery with images and sound, reflecting her lasting interests in language, rhythm, and music. Often inserting herself as a performer and narrator of history, the artist depicts the complexity of human experience across multiple communities. Weems’s provocative and life-affirming approach to image making, developed over the course of her career, has been distinguished by her opposition to racial violence and all forms of oppression, and her commitment to radical social change.
The exhibition is accompanied by Carrie Mae Weems: Reflections for Now, the first publication devoted to the artist’s writings. It will highlight Weems’s influence as an intellectual, reflecting the dual nature of her career as an artist and activist. A public programme of events, including a programme of films in Barbican cinema, will also run throughout the course of the exhibition.
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