Carrie Mae Weems
|This biographical article relies too much on references to primary sources. (December 2013)|
|Carrie Mae Weems|
April 20, 1953 |
Portland, Oregon, USA
|Education||BA, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia.
MFA, University of California, San Diego
|Awards||MacArthur Fellowship (2013), Anonymous Was a Woman Award (2007), Skowhegan Medal for Photography (2007), Rome Prize Fellowship (2006), Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in Photography (2002)|
Carrie Mae Weems (born April 20, 1953) is an American artist who works with text, fabric, audio, digital images, and installation video but is best known for her work in the field of photography. Her award-winning photographs, films, and videos have been displayed in over 50 exhibitions in the United States and abroad and focus on serious issues that face African Americans today, such as racism, gender relations, politics, and personal identity. She has said, "Let me say that my primary concern in art, as in politics, is with the status and place of Afro-Americans in our country." More recently however, she expressed that “Black experience is not really the main point; rather, complex, dimensional, human experience and social inclusion ... is the real point.” 
Early life and education
Weems was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1953, the second of seven children to Myrlie and Carrie Weems. At the age of 16 she gave birth to her first and only child, a daughter named Faith C. Weems. Later that year she moved out of her parent's home and soon relocated to San Francisco to study modern dance with Anna Halprin at a workshop Halprin had started with several other dancers, as well as the artists John Cage and Robert Morris. She decided to continue her arts schooling and attended the California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, graduating at the age of 28 with her B.A. She received her MFA from the University of California, San Diego. Weems also participated in the folklore graduate program at the University of California, Berkeley.
While in her early twenties, Carrie Mae Weems was politically active in the labor movement as a union organizer. Her first camera, which she received as a birthday gift from her then-boyfriend, was used for this work rather than for artistic purposes. She was inspired to pursue photography only after she came across The Black Photography Annual, a book of images by African-American photographers including Shawn Walker, Beuford Smith, Anthony Barboza, Ming Smith, Adger Cowans, and Roy DeCarava, which Weems found inspiring. This led her to New York City, and the Studio Museum in Harlem, where she began to meet other artists and photographers such as Frank Stewart and Coreen Simpson, and they began to form a community. In 1976 Weems took a photography class at the Museum taught by Dawoud Bey. She returned to San Francisco, but lived bi-coastally and was involved with the Studio Museum and a community of photographers in New York.
Career and work
In 1983, Carrie Mae Weems completed her first collection of photographs, text, and spoken word, called Family Pictures and Stories. The images told the story of her family, and she has said that in this project she was trying to explore the movement of black families out of the South and into the North, using her family as a model for the larger theme. Her next series, called Ain't Jokin', was completed in 1988. It focused on racial jokes and internalized racism. Another series called American Icons, completed in 1989, also focused on racism. Weems has said that throughout the 1980s she was turning away from the documentary photography genre, instead "creating representations that appeared to be documents but were in fact staged" and also "incorporating text, using multiples images, diptychs and triptychs, and constructing narratives."  Gender issues were the next focal point for her. It was the topic of one of her most well known collections called The Kitchen Table series which was completed in 1990. About Kitchen Table and Family Pictures and Stories, Weems has said, "I use my own constructed image as a vehicle for questioning ideas about the role of tradition, the nature of family, monogamy, polygamy, relationships between men and women, between women and their children, and between women and other women—underscoring the critical problems and the possible resolves."  She has expressed disbelief and concern about the exclusion of images of the black community, particularly black women, from the popular media, and aims to represent these excluded subjects and speak to their experience through her work. Weems has also reflected on the themes and inspirations of her work as a whole, saying,
"...from the very beginning, I've been interested in the idea of power and the consequences of power; relationships are made and articulated through power. Another thing that's interesting about the early work is that even though I've been engaged in the idea of autobiography, other ideas have been more important: the role of narrative, the social levels of humor, the deconstruction of documentary, the construction of history, the use of text, storytelling, performance, and the role of memory have all been more central to my thinking than autobiography."
Other series created by Weems include: the Sea Island Series (1991-92), the Africa Series (1993), From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1995-96), Who What When Where (1998), Ritual & Revolution (1998), the Louisiana Project (2003), Roaming (2006), and the Museum Series, which she began in 2007.
In her almost 30-year career, Carrie Mae Weems has won numerous awards. She was named Photographer of the Year by the Friends of Photography. In 2005, she was awarded the Distinguished Photographer's Award in recognition of her significant contributions to the world of photography. Her talents have also been recognized by numerous colleges, including Harvard University and Wellesley College, with fellowships, artist-in-residence and visiting professor positions. She was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2013.
Her 30-year retrospective Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video opened in January 2014 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
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