VSW Veteran Carrie Mae Weems Awarded MacArthur Prize
Carrie Mae Weems was among twenty-four recipients of this year’s prestigious MacArthur Fellowship named last week. Popularly known as the “Genius Award,” the $625,000 no-strings-attached grant is given each year by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to a group of individuals holding exceptional promise for future creative achievement in the arts, humanities, sciences, and the nonprofit and for-profit sectors.
Weems, who works mainly in photography and video, was a Visual Studies Workshop artist-in-residence in 1986—and the connection to VSW runs even deeper. As her official website puts it: “In a darkroom at Visual Studies Workshop, she meets Jeff Hoone. She sees the future and knows they will be married. He sees nothing.”
Weems and her husband live in Syracuse, where she was recently moved to found the Institute of Sound and Style after reading a news report about a child killed in a gang shooting. The program, which educates impoverished youth in techniques of production in music and the arts by appealing to their appreciation for popular culture, is characteristic of Weems’s approach to using art as a means of addressing socially relevant issues and as a tool for activism.
Her early photography in the 1970s and ’80s was largely documentary and autobiographical. For the Kitchen Table series (1990), perhaps her best-known work, she constructed portraits using the visual style of documentary photography to explore family dynamics and relationships between the sexes. Several of her projects in the 1990s focused on Africa and the African diaspora, such as Sea Islands (1991–92) and From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1995–96). The latter series consists of red-tinted prints of historical daguerreotypes of blacks in America overlaid with text—often sardonic, often simply sad—crying out against some of the countless indignities of American slavery and racism. Her more recent work includes Slow Fade to Black (2010) and the public art project Operation: Activate (2011).
“Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video,” a traveling retrospective of her work which began last year with a run at Nashville’s Frist Center, is due to open at Stanford University’s Cantor Center for Visual Arts on October 16, and then at the Guggenheim Museum in New York this January.
Sergei Krishkov is an editorial intern at Afterimage and a recent graduate of the University of Rochester with a degree in literature and political science.