Fraenkel Gallery is pleased to present a survey of the work of Carrie Mae Weems examining her extraordinary achievement over four decades. WITNESS traces Weems’s exploration of history, identity, and the structure of power, in photographs and video from many of her most important bodies of work. Weems’s inaugural show celebrates the gallery’s recently announced representation of the artist.
The exhibition begins with early documentary-style photographs from the series Family Pictures and Stories, depicting Weems’s own multigenerational family in a joyful and nuanced vision of Black family life. In her iconic Kitchen Table series, Weems cast herself as a woman at the emotional center of an imagined domestic world, staging photographs that build a rich fictional narrative around her role as a lover, friend, and mother.
In the series Museums, American Monuments, and Roaming, Weems photographed herself in front of institutions and public spaces around the world, dressed in black and facing away from the camera. Weems has described the character she depicts as a witness whose presence invites the viewer to consider how power is inscribed in these spaces and which groups are welcomed and represented in them.
Weems has often used performance marked by highly constructed artifice to explore how history is remembered and created. In Constructing History, Weems worked with college students to re-enact moments of social upheaval from the 1960s, building stage-like photographic tableaux. In the video People of a Darker Hue, Weems addresses more recent history, pairing footage of buoyant city life and solemn protest with a stark, highly stylized vision of oppression, in commemoration of Black men and women killed by police.
In From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried, one of Weems’s best known and most powerful series, photographs of enslaved men and women and other Black subjects, collected from museum and university archives and other sources, are tinted red and overlaid with heartbreaking and poetic texts. Using important images in American photography to explore not only race, but rather race through the lens of American photographic history, the series takes on both photography and the racist structures it has supported.