The Compelling Carrie Mae Weems
Hi, how are you?
I’ve been spending a good amount of my time battling with the immense pleasure of being overly sensitive and “busy” for a lack of a better word →stimulated→ deep in work →comes up for air →over stimulated by the world and life again and so, maybe back to the quiet illusion of what we generally call “busy.” When things slowed down (they’ve really only shifted) my words have no filter, and so I’ve been sitting with what this means.
Instead of figuring out how to get back on that bike quickly, I spent an hour deciding if I should share on my nearly-forgotten blog, LY or on here. While I wanted to stay here, the emotional battle of a decade of commitment I’ve made on that space kicks whenever I prop myself on my bed with my laptop to nearly-screen a few wired sentences on this particular platform.
In the weeks ahead, I hope things shake a little a bit clearer, emotionally and linguistically.
In more important news, I’ve been thinking about Carrie Mae Weems birthday yesterday, she’s 69! I’m fascinated with her double artist home life between Fort Greene, Brooklyn (neighbor) and Syracuse, NY, and how she’s almost nearly remained mysterious as her work has evoked such vast conversations and catapulted her into sheets of fame. In a 2018 New York Times piece they had this to say about her,
“In conversation, she has a magnetism that’s almost planetary; she is mellifluously voiced and funny, with a habit of repeating “Right? Right?” as she makes her points, which move from critical theory to an anecdote about her Pilates teacher, who tried to break up with Weems because she was too demanding. She’s like that friend who sees right through you and who you trust will set you straight, because she’s just as undecided about herself.``
For so very long, I’ve obsessively looked at The Kitchen Table series, which are a collection of photographs shot in 1990 that document staged scenes of a woman (Carrie Mae Weems) at her kitchen table. The scenes challenge, question, and celebrate feminism, and the intimacy of home (one’s table) and the regard and complete disregard of the complexity of it through various roles Weems takes on. Like many people who were babies when the photographs were shot, and are women today, I’ve found the thread between my mother (and all the matriarchs in my life at that time) and myself, within this flip of these scenes and the challenges we all climb(ed).
But on her 69th birthday, I’m intrigued by the absolute joy in her Family Pictures and Stories series that preceded The Kitchen Table series. These documentary style photographs and videos capture some of Weems own family, which stands as its own rebuttal to harmful accusations of the disintegration of Black family bonds born out of the 1965 Moynihan Report. At first glance, I thought a lot about the words of Langston Hughes (I read his children’s book to the kids tonight) and was surprised to read that Hughes’ and Zora Neal Hurston’s work was what inspired Weems' lens during this time to begin with.
The euphoria in these photographs fuse with their mundanity. They remind me of barbecues, backyard games of checkers and chess, stoop hangs, taxi rides to Sunday service and all the times I spent on my great-aunt’s floor flipping through her plastic filmed-covered photographs of this same exact time; snapshots of Black joy and Black bonds, personified in their tenderness.
Maybe it is the simplicity in these compelling shots, and in Carrie Mae Weems as an artist overall, that has been a welcomed distraction to fit in the gaps between decent and grounded words. It’s hard to be anxious when observing the way one arm crosses the other, or the tangled strap of a white tank top worn under the presumably hot summer sun. The perms, the hats, fold-out lawn chairs, oversized t-shirts on braided girls, and child rearing by all who can manage. To focus on the tenderness is to relinquish one’s self in Weems' magnetic arm for a moment in time. And so, that’s where you’ll find me. Blissfully.
This is now a culture newsletter, don’t you know? ;)
Anything you’ve read or viewed that has inspired you lately?