Carrie Mae Weems

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Carrie Mae Weems
Born (1953-04-20) April 20, 1953 (age 70)
EducationCalifornia Institute of the Arts (BA)
University of California, San Diego (MFA)
Known forPhotography
AwardsMacArthur Fellowship (2013), Anonymous Was a Woman Award (2007), Rome Prize Fellowship (2006), Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in Photography (2002), Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society (2019), Hasselblad Award 2023.

Carrie Mae Weems (born April 20, 1953) is an American artist working in text, fabric, audio, digital images and installation video, and is best known for her photography.[1][2] She achieved prominence through her early 1990s photographic project The Kitchen Table Series. Her photographs, films and videos focus on serious issues facing African Americans today, including racism, sexism, politics and personal identity.

She once said, "Let me say that my primary concern in art, as in politics, is with the status and place of Afro-Americans in the country."[3] More recently, however, she expressed the view that "Black experience is not really the main point; rather, complex, dimensional, human experience and social inclusion ... is the real point."[4] She continues to produce art that provides social commentary on the experiences of people of color, especially black women, in America.[1]

Her talents have been recognized by Harvard University and Wellesley College, with fellowships, artist-in-residence and visiting professor positions. She taught photography at Hampshire College in the late 1980s and shot the "Kitchen Table" series in her home in Western Massachusetts. Weems is one of six artist-curators who made selections for Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2019/20.[5] She is Artist in residence at Syracuse University.[6]


Early life and education (1953–1980)[edit]

Weems was born in Portland, Oregon in 1953, the second of seven children to Carrie Polk and Myrlie Weems.[7] She began participating in dance and street theater in 1965.[1] At the age of 16, she gave birth to her only child, a daughter named Faith C. Weems.[8]

Later that year (1970), she moved out of her parents' home and soon relocated to San Francisco[9] 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.[10] Weems recalled, "I started dancing with the famous and extraordinary Anna Halprin. I was in Anna's company for I suppose, maybe a year or two…experimenting with very deep parts of dance and ideas about dance. Anna was really interested in ideas about peace and using dance as a way to bridge different cultures together as a vehicle for multicultural expression...I wasn't really so interested in dance, I just knew how to dance really well. I had a really, I think, deep sense of my body from a very early age."[9] Thirty years later in 2008, Weems circled back to dance in her project Constructing History: A Requiem to Mark the Moment, at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, noting "I'm just beginning this project of looking at blues and flamenco, and ideas about dance and movement."[9]

She decided to continue her arts schooling and attended the California Institute of the Arts, in the Los Angeles metro, graduating at the age of 28 with a BFA degree. She received her MFA from the University of California, San Diego.[11] Weems also participated in the folklore graduate program at the University of California, Berkeley.[12]

While in her early twenties, Weems was politically active in the labor movement as a union organizer.[1] Her first camera, which she received as a birthday gift,[13] was used for this work before being used for artistic purposes. She was inspired to pursue photography after coming across The Black Photographers Annual, a book of images by African-American photographers including Shawn Walker, Beuford Smith, Anthony Barboza, Ming Smith, Adger Cowans and Roy DeCarava.[14] This led her to New York City and the Studio Museum in Harlem, where she began to meet other artists and photographers such as Coreen Simpson and Frank Stewart, and they began to form a community. In 1976, Weems took a photography class at the Museum taught by Dawoud Bey and earned money as an assistant to Anthony Barboza.[15] She returned to San Francisco, but lived bi-coastally and was invited by Janet Henry to teach at the Studio Museum[16] and a community of photographers in New York.[14]


First panel from Untitled (1996, printed 2020), National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

In 1983, Weems completed her first collection of photographs, text and spoken word, called Family Pictures and Stories.[17] 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.[14] 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."[14] Sexism was 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 over a two-year period (1989 to 1990), and has Weems cast as the central character in the photographs.[13][18][19] 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."[14] She has expressed disbelief and concern about the exclusion of images of the black community, particularly black women, from the popular media, and she aims to represent these excluded subjects and speak to their experience through her work. These photographs created space for other black female artists to further create art. 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.[14]


The Armstrong Triptych (from The Hampton Project) (2000) at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC in 2022.

Weems remains active in the art world with her recent photographic project such as Louisiana Project (2003), Roaming (2006), Museums (2006), Constructing History (2008), African Jewels (2009), Mandingo (2010), Slow Fade to Black (2010), Equivalents (2012), Blue Notes (2014–2015) and the expanded bodies of works including installation, mixed media, and video project.[20][13][21][22] Her recent project, Grace Notes: Reflections for Now, is a multimedia performance that explores "the role of grace in the pursuit of democracy."[23] Her recent work Slow Fade to Black (2010) explores the lost image and memory of African-American female entertainers, including singers, dancers, and actresses, in the twentieth century by playing on the idea of cinematic fade. The freeze frame of a camera lens makes it impossible for us to tell whether or not those images are fading in or fading outs.[24] The series of photos features a number of prominent female African-American artists from the last century, such as Marian Anderson and Billie Holiday, who faded out of our collective memory.[24] The blurred images of the artists serves as metaphor of the on-going struggle for African-American entertainers to remain visible and relevant. For the season 2020/2021 at the Vienna State Opera Weems designed the large-scale picture (176 sqm) Queen B (Mary J. Blige) as part of the exhibition series Safety Curtain, conceived by museum in progress.[25] In 2023 Weems became the first black woman to win the Hasselblad Award.[26]

Weems has been represented by Jack Shainman Gallery since 2008.[27]

Personal life[edit]

She lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn,[28] and Syracuse, New York, with her husband Jeffrey Hoone.


  • Carrie Mae Weems: The Museum of Modern Art (N.Y.),[29] 1995.
  • Carrie Mae Weems : Image Maker,[30] 1995.
  • Carrie Mae Weems : Recent Work, 1992––1998,[31] 1998.
  • Carrie Mae Weems: In Louisiana Project,[32] 2004.
  • Carrie Mae Weems: Constructing History,[33] 2008.
  • Carrie Mae Weems : Social Studies,[34] 2010.
  • Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video,[35] 2012.
  • Carrie Mae Weems, Yale University Press, 2012.[36] The first major survey of Weems' career and includes a collection of essays from scholars in addition to over 200 of Weems' works.[37]
  • Carrie Mae Weems: Kitchen Table Series,[38] 2016.


The first comprehensive retrospective of her work opened in September 2012 at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee,[13][39] as a part of the center's exhibition Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video. Curated by Katie Delmez, the exhibition ran until January 13, 2013, and later traveled to Portland Art Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Cantor Center for Visual Arts. The 30-year retrospective exhibition opened in January 2014 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.[13][40] This was the first time an "African-American woman [was] ever given a solo exhibition" at the Guggenheim.[41] Weems' work returned to the Frist in October 2013 as a part of the center's 30 Americans gallery, alongside black artists ranging from Jean-Michel Basquiat to Kehinde Wiley.[42] In 2021, Weems presented The Shape of Things exhibit at the Park Avenue Armory.[43]

Her first solo exhibition in Germany, shown in 2022 at the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart, is titled The Evidence of Things Not Seen.[44]

In 2023, the Barbican Centre in London hosted Weems' first major UK exhibition, titled Reflections for Now and featuring photography and video installations from over three decades.[45]

Notable works in public collections[edit]

Mickalene Thomas and Weems talk with curator Eugenie Tsai about using their work to challenge conventional ideas of beauty, race, and gender (Brooklyn Museum, 2013)



  1. ^ a b c d Weems, Carrie Mae. "Biography". Retrieved November 16, 2013.
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  6. ^ Morrow, Kevin (May 26, 2020). "Syracuse University Artist in Residence Carrie Mae Weems Launches Project Addressing the Impact of COVID-19 on Black, Latino and Native Communities". SU News. Syracuse University News. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
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  15. ^ O'Grady, Megan (October 15, 2018). ""How Carrie Mae Weems Rewrote the Rules of Image-Making."". The New York Times. p. 5.
  16. ^ Bey, Dawoud; Weems, Carrie Mae (2009). "Carrie Mae Weems". BOMB(108): 60–67.
  17. ^ "Family Pictures and Stories, 1981–1982". Retrieved March 7, 2015.
  18. ^ Kisch, Andrea; Sterling, Susan Fisher (1994). Carrie Mae Weems. Washington D.C.: National Museum of Women in the Arts. pp. 14–15. ISBN 978-0-940979-21-5.
  19. ^ Rothfuss, Joan; Carpenter, Elizabeth (2005). Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections. Minneapolis: Walker Art Center. p. 580. ISBN 978-0-935640-78-6.
  20. ^ "Bodies of Works". Carrie Mae Weems. Retrieved November 13, 2020.
  21. ^ Piché, Thomas Jr; Golden, Thelma (1998). Carrie Mae Weems: recent work, 1992–1998. New York: George Braziller. ISBN 978-0-8076-1444-0.
  22. ^ "Carrie Mae Weems Responds". ArtNews. May 26, 2015. Retrieved October 7, 2015.
  23. ^ "GRACE NOTES: REFLECTIONS FOR NOW | Spoleto Festival USA 2016". Archived from the original on November 18, 2016. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  24. ^ a b Berger, Maurice (January 22, 2014). "Black Performers, Fading From Frame, and Memory". The New York Times. Retrieved November 12, 2020.
  25. ^ "Safety Curtain 2020/2021", museum in progress, Vienna.
  26. ^ "Women of the Year: the biggest political, financial and cultural moments of 2023".
  27. ^ "Carrie Mae Weems – Jack Shainman Gallery".
  28. ^ Valentine, Victoria (October 22, 2018). "The New York Times Recognizes the Greatness of Carrie Mae Weems". Culture Type. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  29. ^ Weems, Carrie Mae; Museum of Modern Art (N.Y.) (1995). Carrie Mae Weems. New York: Museum of Modern Art. OCLC 501437361.
  30. ^ Weems, Carrie Mae; Contemporary Arts Center (Cincinnati, Ohio) (1995). Carrie Mae Weems: image maker. Cincinnati, OH: Contemporary Arts Center. OCLC 46328668.
  31. ^ Weems, Carrie Mae; Piché, Thomas; Golden, Thelma; Everson Museum of Art (1998). Carrie Mae Weems: recent work, 1992–1998. New York; Syracuse, N.Y.: George Braziller; in association with Everson Museum of Art. ISBN 978-0-8076-1444-0. OCLC 40043580.
  32. ^ Weems, Carrie Mae; Neil, Erik; Cahan, Susan; Metzger, Pamela R.; Newcomb Art Gallery (2004). Carrie Mae Weems: the Louisiana Project. New Orleans: Newcomb Art Gallery. ISBN 978-0-9668595-5-3. OCLC 58961580.
  33. ^ Weems, Carrie Mae; Hughley, Stephanie S; Savannah College of Art and Design (Estados Unidos) (2008). Carrie Mae Weems: constructing history a requiem to mark the moment. Savannah: Savannah College of Art and Design. ISBN 978-0-9797440-8-2. OCLC 959176508.
  34. ^ Weems, Carrie Mae; Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo (Seville, Spain) (2010). Carrie Mae Weems: social studies. Sevilla: Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo. ISBN 978-84-9959-026-4. OCLC 688018319.
  35. ^ Weems, Carrie Mae; Delmez, Kathryn E; Frist Center for the Visual Arts (Nashville, Tenn.) (2012). Carrie Mae Weems three decades of photography and video: [Traveling exhibition, United States, Sept. 2012 – May 2014. Nashville, TN; New Haven: Frist Center for the Visual Arts; in association with Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-17689-6. OCLC 835295353.
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  37. ^ "Carrie Mae Weems – Delmez, Kathryn E.; Gates, Jr., Henry Louis; Sirmans, Franklin; Storr, Robert; Willis, Deborah – Yale University Press". Retrieved November 18, 2015.
  38. ^ Weems, Carrie Mae; Edwards, Adrienne (2016). Carrie Mae Weems – Kitchen table series. Bologna: Damiani. ISBN 978-88-6208-462-8. OCLC 951107988.
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External links[edit]