Carrie Mae Weems: The Shape of Things
“I think we need to learn to listen, and we also need to learn to speak… In this environment, saying nothing appears to be easier. But it isn’t. Every day you have a choice. To the extent that you say nothing is the extent to which you choose to relinquish some aspect of democracy.” -Carrie Mae Weems, The Shape of Things
For as long as I can remember, the work of renowned American artist Carrie Mae Weems has been a guiding light in my journey as a visual artist. Her ability to address and navigate complex American issues with grace, power, and authenticity orchestrating photography, text, fabric, audio, digital images, installation, and video has been a longstanding source of inspiration for me and many others. Throughout her work, which spans over four decades, she continues to explore, confront, and interrogate themes of race, gender, identity, family, and social injustices. Compelling storytelling has remained an operating force at the center of her work which is also powerfully exhibited in her latest book, The Shape of Things.
Weems’s newly released book, The Shape of Things, was recently published by MW Editions, a New York City-based publisher of fine art and photography books, this August 2023. This remarkable publication is based on the work she exhibited at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City, NY in 2021 and is now on view at the LUMA Foundation in Arles, France through January 6, 2024. In 2021, Weems created a forty-minute seven-part film projected onto a cyclorama– a panoramic-style cylindrical screen. In this work, she boldly addresses the turmoil of current events and the resistance to America’s ever-changing political and cultural climate.
In The Shape of Things, Weems choreographs an experience that effortlessly weaves together the tapestry of American politics throughout historical and contemporary times. The chaos and disarray of contemporary American politics at large mirror what Weems views as a circus. Similar to a circus, American politics have remained a spectacle challenging to look away from due to its often-entertaining nature that edges on danger. The imagery intentionally placed throughout the book includes installation views, portraits, and landscapes. While the repetition of imagery presents itself throughout the book, of most note to me was the eye-catching motif of deep, blue, and black hues present throughout the vast majority of the works. While subjective, this motif evoked feelings of elegance, mystery, sadness, and grief which replicates the reality of Black life, especially in America, both past and present. Alongside the poignant imagery present throughout the book, The Shape of Things also contains an interview with Weems and Hans Ulrich Obrist and insightful essays by Thomas J. Lax and Huey Copeland.
The Shape of Things is many things– alluring, immersive, poignant, so quiet yet so loud. Her book reinforces the idea that as artists, we hold a unique position to say something to evoke conversation with a hopeful resolution for humane change. As Weems has made apparent throughout her rich retrospective of works, it is vital to confront the past to better navigate through the weeds of the present. It will continue to be a challenge and most certainly not an overnight change. Amid the chaos of our American circus lies a semblance of hope through an encouraging reminder simply, yet beautifully laid over pillows of clouds in the book’s back cover– REMEMBER TO DREAM.
Carrie Mae Weems was born in 1953 in Portland, Oregon. Considered one of the most influential contemporary American artists, Weems has investigated family relationships, cultural identity, sexism, class, political systems, and the consequences of power. She has developed a complex body of art employing photographs, text, fabric, audio, digital images, installation, and video.
Weems has participated in solo and group exhibitions at major national and international museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Frist Art Museum in Nashville, the Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo in Seville, Spain. Significant recent exhibitions include her installation The Shape of Things, Park Avenue Armory, New York (2021), Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue, Grand Rapids Art Museum, Michigan (2022), and The Evidence of Things Not Seen, Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart (2022).
Weems has received numerous awards, grants, and fellowships, including the Prix de Roma and the MacArthur “Genius” grant, as well as the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2023, she was the recipient of the prestigious Hasselblad Award, one of the highest honors in the photographic arts.
She is represented in public and private collections around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. She is currently the Artist in Residence at Syracuse University.
Carrie Mae Weems lives and works in Syracuse, New York.
Follow on Instagram: @carrieMaeWeems
MW Editions values the tradition of book making, and strives to make each book a unique, beautiful, and desirable object in its own right. Their books are distinguished by their exceptional quality of design, materials, and printing.
Founded by Amy Wilkins and Takaaki Matsumoto of Matsumoto Incorporated, an award-winning graphic design firm with decades of experience in publication design, MW Editions offers a unique combination of sophisticated design and editorial guidance to the artists and authors it publishes.
MW Editions provides complete design, print production, and editorial services and is proud to collaborate with both established and emerging artists.
Follow on Instagram: @MWEditions
Alayna N. Pernell (b. 1996) is a visual artist, writer, and educator from Heflin, Alabama. Her practice considers the gravity of the mental well-being of Black people in relation to the spaces they inhabit, whether physically or metaphorically. Throughout her research and making, using a compilation of photography, text, and found materials, she unearths and examines the harsh realities and complexities of being a Black American woman.
In May 2019, she graduated from The University of Alabama where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art with a concentration in Photography and a minor in African American Studies. She received her MFA in Photography from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in May 2021. Her work has been exhibited in various cities across the United States, including FLXST Contemporary (Chicago, IL), Refraction Gallery (Milwaukee, WI), JKC Gallery (Trenton, NJ), RUSCHWOMAN Gallery (Chicago, IL), Colorado Photographic Arts Center (Denver, CO), Griffin Museum of Photography (Winchester, MA) and more. Pernell was named a 2023 Mary L. Nohl Fellow; in 2020-2021 she was the recipient of the James Weinstein Memorial Award by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Department of Photography and the 2021 Snider Prize award recipient by the Museum of Contemporary Photography. She was also recognized on the Silver Eye Center of Photography 2022 Silver List, Photolucida’s 2021 Critical Mass Top 50, 2021 Lenscratch Student Prize Honorable Mention, and more.
She is currently the Associate Lecture of Photography and Imaging at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Follow on Instagram: @alaynapernell
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