First Large-Scale Retrospective Devoted to Acclaimed Artist Carrie Mae Weems

Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video

Exhibition opens October 16, continues through January 5, 2014


Stanford, Calif. — The first major museum retrospective devoted to contemporary artist Carrie Mae Weems—widely acclaimed as one of today’s most eloquent and respected interpreters of the African American experience—opens October 16 at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. More than 100 intellectually challenging and aesthetically compelling photographs, installations and videos offer an unprecedented survey of Weems’s 30-year exploration of the universal human journey, especially as affected by race, gender and class. Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video remains on view at the Cantor until January 5, 2014. It then continues its national tour and moves to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

Comprehensive in scope, the exhibition traces the evolution of Weems’s career from her early documentary and autobiographical photographic series to the more conceptual and philosophically complex works that have placed her in the forefront of contemporary art. Major themes that have engaged Weems are all included—personal narrative, the legacy and locales of slavery, contemporary perceptions of African Americans and the universal struggle for equality.

Exhibition Overview
Organized chronologically and thematically, the exhibition opens with Weems’s earliest documentary photographic series, Family Pictures and Stories (1978–84), followed by the more politically overt Ain’t Jokin’ (1987–88) and American Icons (1988–89), in which she explores the perpetuation of African-American stereotypes in mainstream culture. In the career-defining Kitchen Table Series (1990) Weems uses text and image to narrate the story of a modern black woman (portrayed by Weems herself) as she successively experiences love, loss, motherhood, despair and, ultimately, self-reliance—all the while seated at her kitchen table. Another early landmark in Weems’s career is From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1995–96), in which she uses photographs from pseudo-anthropological studies created in the past to justify racism and the exploitation of black Africans.

The exhibition also features several photographic series in which Weems explores a particular locale that resonates in the history of slavery. Among the earliest of these is the haunting Sea Islands Series (1991–92), devoted to the Gullah people, black communities of coastal South Carolina and Georgia whose semi-isolation fostered the survival of many African customs and beliefs.

Also on view are images from Slave Coast, made during a 1993 trip to Africa, Dreaming in Cuba (2002), The Louisiana Project (2003), which focus on the racial complexities specific to that state. In many of the images from these series, Weems herself appears as a ghostly presence, her back to the camera, as if bearing silent witness to the past.

The exhibition also includes the videos Italian Dreams (2006), whose surreal and sexual content owes much to the films of Fellini, and Afro-Chic (2009), a wry commentary on the ’60s craze—among both black and white women— for Afro hairstyles. The most recent work in the exhibition is the photographic series Slow Fade to Black (2010), featuring publicity photos of famous African-American female performers of the past—Josephine Baker to Marion Anderson to Nina Simone. Each image is purposefully out of focus, suggesting their fading presence in our collective cultural memory.

Carrie Mae Weems
Weems was born in 1953, in Portland, Oregon. In her late teens she moved to San Francisco to pursue a career in modern dance, studying movement with Anna Halprin’s postmodern Dancer’s Workshop. She also became politically active in the labor movement. During the late 1970s, Weems began to pursue her interest in photography, first as a means of political and personal documentation, then increasingly as a form of intellectual and aesthetic expression. She earned a bachelor of fine arts degree at the California Institute of the Arts in 1981 and a master of fine arts degree at the University of California, San Diego in 1984. She is also an avid student of history, political theory, literature, philosophy and folklore, all of which she brings to bear in her work. While African Americans are her primary subject, Weems has stated that she wants people of color to stand for the human multitude and for her work to resonate with all audiences.

My responsibility as an artist is to work, to sing for my supper, to make art, beautiful and powerful, that adds and reveals; to beautify the mess of a messy world, to heal the sick and feed the helpless; to shout bravely from the rooftops and storm barricaded doors and voice the specificity of our historical moment. — Carrie Mae Weems

Exhibition Organization and Sponsorship
“Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video” has been organized by Kathryn Delmez, curator, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, Tennessee. This exhibition is supported in part by grants from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, and gifts from the HCA Foundation on behalf of HCA and the TriStar Family of Hospitals, and Robert and Richard Menschel.

The exhibition's presentation at Stanford is made possible by the Clumeck Fund and Cantor Arts Center Members.

National Tour
Following its presentation at the Frist Center, the exhibition traveled to the Portland Art Museum, Oregon (February 2–May 19, 2013) and the Cleveland Museum of Art (June 30–September 29, 2013). After its stay at the Cantor, the exhibition moves to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (January 24–April 23, 2014).

Exhibition Catalogue
The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, published by Yale University Press. The catalogue contains a foreword by Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director, W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University, and scholarly essays by Kathryn Delmez, Curator, Frist Center for the Visual Arts; Franklin Sirmans, Terri and Michael Smooke Curator of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Robert Storr, Dean, Yale University School of Art; and Deborah Willis, Professor of Photography and Imaging, Tisch School for the Arts, New York University.

Docent Tours
Thursdays, 12:15 pm, Saturdays and Sundays, 2 pm, through January 5, 2014

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Visitor information
The Cantor Arts Center is open Wednesday–Sunday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m., Thursday until 8 p.m. Admission is free. The Cantor is located on the Stanford campus, off Palm Drive at Museum Way. Parking is free after 4 p.m. weekdays and all day on weekends. Information: 650-723-4177,

Notes to Editors
• To arrange for interviews and for further information, including an exhibition catalogue, contact Anna Koster, Head of Communications, Cantor Arts Center, 650-725-4657,
• For high-resolution publicity images, contact PR Assistant Manager Margaret Whitehorn, Cantor Arts Center, 650-724-3600,

About the Cantor Arts Center
The Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University’s only museum, is a vital and dynamic institution with a venerable history. Founded in 1891 with the university, the historic museum was expanded and renamed in 1999 for lead donors Iris and B. Gerald Cantor. The Cantor’s encyclopedic collection spans 5,000 years, includes 32,000 artworks and beckons visitors to travel around the world and through time: from Africa to the Americas to Asia, from classical to contemporary. With 24 galleries presenting selections from the collection and more than 20 special exhibitions each year, the Cantor serves Stanford's academic community, draws art lovers from the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond, and attracts campus visitors from around the world. Free admission, free tours, lectures, family activities, plus changing exhibitions make the Cantor one of the most well-attended university art museums in the country and a great resource for teaching and research on campus.

Carrie Mae Weems wins 2013 MacArthur Genius Grant


Carrie Mae Weems. A Broad and Expansive Sky—Ancient Rome from Roaming; 2006. Digital chromogenic print; 73 x 61 inches. Private collection; Portland; Oregon. © Carrie Mae Weems


Carrie Mae Weems. Afro-Chic (video still), 2010. DVD, 5 minutes, 30 seconds. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. © Carrie Mae Weems

Carrie Mae Weems,
Untitled (Man and Mirror) from the Kitchen Table Series, 1990, Silver gelatin print and text panel; artist's proof one of two from a numbered edition of five, 27 1/4 x 27 1/4 inches.Collection Liz and Eric Lefkofsky, promised gift to The Art Institute of Chicago, 115.2010