American Photographer Carrie Mae Weems

By on February 7th, 2024 in Celebrate Women's History in the Arts, Celebrating Black Art and Artists, Permanent collection, The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art at Rollins

American photographer Carrie Mae Weems combines social documentary, self-portraiture, and performance to construct complex narratives that confront historical representations of black Americans. Frequently using her own body, Weems enacts racialized types adapted from archival images and restages photographs to expose the complex role images play in perpetuating racial discrimination. 

Weem’s Kitchen Table Series

Carrie Mae Weems' Kitchen table series book on a bookshelf at The Rollins Museum of Art.

Weems’ Kitchen Table Series, one of her most iconic works, comprises twenty black-and-white photographs and fourteen text panels. The series—performed by Weems—focuses on one woman, her self-reflection, and her interactions with family and friends. Weems’s character represents “everywoman,” but also implicitly exposes social and cultural assumptions about black womanhood. Each scene is posed around an archetypal kitchen table, like a stage set.

Purchase Carrie Mae Weems’ Kitchen Table Series book at the Rollins Museum of Art.

Carrie Mae Weems’ Untitled (Woman with Daughter)

Untitled (Woman with Daughter), from The Kitchen Table Series is part of the Rollins Museum of Art permanent collection. Currently on view at The Alfond Inn in Winter Park, Florida.

In the outtake Untitled (Woman with Daughter), the woman and her adolescent daughter perform three scenarios that reveal their complex relationship. Each meticulously staged scene includes the same components—protagonists, props, and place—yet in each frame Weems alters body language and position to drastically change the tone. Through subtle gestures, Weems communicates the range of maternal and familial exchange: curiosity, mutual respect, frustration, neglect, and companionship. 

A series of 3 images of a woman and child around a kitchen table
Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1963) Untitled (Woman with Daughter), From the Kitchen Table Series, 1990 Silver prints, triptych 28 1/4 x 28 1/4 inches each. The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, Rollins Museum of Art. Gift of Barbara ’68 and Theodore ’68 Alfond, 2014.1.26. © Carrie Mae Weems. Image courtesy of the artist and Jack Shaiman Gallery, New York. 

While Weems presents a set and characters, she also cleverly reveals the viewer’s own assumptions by providing only minimal information. Depending on the viewer’s life experiences, these scenes could be read in a number of ways. Perhaps this is a single-parent home where the mother is struggling to raise her daughter, or maybe these are glimpses into typical evening homework rituals. In these three images as well as the full Kitchen Table Series, what is clear is the intensity of the mother’s effort to maintain or break from her perceived identity. Weems reveals persistent tropes and asks her viewers, regardless of race or gender, to question their own presuppositions. 

Untitled (Woman with Daughter), From the Kitchen Table Series hangs on the wall in the hallway of The Alfond Inn

Untitled (Woman with Daughter), From the Kitchen Table Series, is currently on view at The Alfond Inn in Winter Park, Florida

Carrie Mae Weems’ Museum Series

In her ongoing Museum Series, Weems performs a series of more conceptual and layered narratives that move beyond racial identity into the realm of inequality of access and inclusion. In each photograph Weems stands, with her back turned to the camera, in proximity to one of the world’s leading museums and cultural institutions. In Louvre, she appears in front of I. M. Pei’s iconic pyramid clad entirely in black. Her quiet contemplation is an act of protest and witness to years of discriminatory collecting and exhibiting practices. As a woman of color and an artist, she creates a performance at each site that evokes years of exclusion, reminding us of the distance we have yet to cover on the road to equality. 

Art for Rollins: The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, Rollins Museum of Art

This excerpt by Anna Stothart is from Art for Rollins: The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, Volume II. Each volume in this series features full color images and texts of works in the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, at the Rollins Museum of Art. Included in Volume II are acquisitions of works by 47 artists including María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Rosemarie Castoro, Melvin Edwards, Charline von Heyl, David Hockney, William Kentridge, Trevor Paglen, Thomas Scheibitz, Hank Willis Thomas, Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, and Jack Whitten, among others.

Get your copy in the Museum Shop at The Rollins Museum of Art in Winter Park, Florida.

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