Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled (Colored People Grid) (2009/2010/2011), pigment ink prints and 31 coloured clay papers [Portland Art Museum, Portland OR, Feb 2-May 19] Collection of Rodney M. Miller © Carrie Mae Weems
This museum retrospective traces the photography-based artwork of Carrie Mae Weems, a seminal artist who is recognized internationally for voicing a cultural dialogue around subjects of race, gender and identity.
Weems was born and raised in Portland, Oregon in 1953. In the 1970s she moved to San Francisco to study dance and also received her first camera as a gift. Photography became a natural way for Weems to position herself as both spectator and subject as she moved through the world as an African-American woman exposing personal observations, hidden histories and marginalized cultures. The artist often poses in her own works as a stand-in symbolizing a larger dynamic about the minority experience within the mainstream contexts of history, politics and class structure.
Weems style is both documentary and constructed, pushing the boundaries of a photographic image to tell stories and put forth a poignant message. A stellar example is her Kitchen Table Series (1990) where Weems positions herself as a central figure in a seemingly simple setting. With a straightforward perspective, these vignettes expose a truthful narrative surrounding domesticity, womens roles and the multifaceted relationships inherent in family life.
In some instances Weems also combines text and image to further manipulate meaning with wit and complexity. Not Manets Type (1997) is a series of voyeuristic images shot looking into a mirror; in one frame we see an intimate bedroom scene of a woman who ironically reflects upon the life of artists models,
Imagine my fate had De Kooning gotten hold of me.
This comprehensive exhibit also includes some of Weems most groundbreaking work like Aint Jokin (1987-88) where portraits of different African-American people are cast with racial slurs and stereotypes as a means to raise awareness and redirect power.