Carrie Mae Weems (born 1953) is a widely influential American artist whose work gives voice to people whose stories have been silenced or ignored. Investigating history, identity, and power, she finds connections between personal experience and the larger structures and institutions that shape our lives. Over the course of forty years, she has built an acclaimed body of work using photographs, text, fabric, audio, digital images, installation, and video.
Since the 1980s, Weems’s work has been seen around the world, and she has inspired a generation of artists with her poetic and original approach to storytelling. Throughout her career, Weems has exposed the belief systems that have maintained the status quo. In her iconic Kitchen Table Series, from 1990, Weems builds emotionally complex narratives through simply staged black and white photographs, casting herself in the role of lover, friend, mother, and solitary woman. The series depicts scenes that are both universal and specific to the Black lives they imagine. And 22 Million Very Tired and Very Angry People, 1989-1990, presents photographs of ordinary objects with captions that point to their use as tools for revolution. Bringing together these items with silk-screened banners of text, the piece addresses the power of collective action. With From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried, 1995-96, Weems collects photographs of enslaved men and women and other Black subjects from museum and university archives. Pairing these images with powerful texts, Weems reveals the role photography has played in supporting and shaping racism.
Weems’s expansive practice has often overlapped with activism; in addition to her solo work, she has led collective public art projects and multi-disciplinary performances. In 2020, Weems directed The Baptism, a short film commissioned by Lincoln Center, which pairs images of nature, protest, and everyday life with a poem by Carl Hancock Rux, in tribute to the late activists John Lewis and C.T. Vivian. In 2016, Weems made Grace Notes: Reflections for Now, a collaborative multimedia performance that blends music, spoken word, dance, and video to explore the meaning of grace in the face of Black oppression. Weems has also brought together activists, artists, musicians, poets, theorists and writers, convening events such as Past Tense/Future Perfect at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and The Shape of Things at the Park Avenue Armory, where Weems was artist-in-residence.
Weems has been featured in major exhibitions at museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Seville, Spain. She has received numerous awards, grants, and fellowships, including a MacArthur “Genius” grant, the U.S. State Department’s Medal of Arts, the Joseph Hazen Rome Prize Fellowship from the American Academy in Rome, NEA grants, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Award, and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award, among others. Her work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and The Tate Modern, London.