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Carrie Mae Weems
*Carrie Mae Weems was born on this date in 1953. She is a Black artist working in text, fabric, audio, digital images, and installation video, and is best known for her photography.
Weems was born in Portland, Oregon, the second of seven children to Carrie Polk and Myrlie Weems. She began participating in dance and street theater in 1965. At the age of 16, she gave birth to her first and only child, a daughter named Faith C. Weems. Later that year (1970), she moved out of her parent's home and soon relocated to San Francisco to study modern dance with Anna Halprin at a workshop Halprin had started with several other dancers, as well as the artists.
Weems recalled, "I started dancing with the famous and extraordinary Anna Halprin. I was in Anna’s company for I suppose maybe a year or two…experimenting with very deep parts of dance and ideas about dance. Anna was really interested in ideas about peace and using dance as a way to bridge different cultures together as a vehicle for multicultural expression...I wasn’t really so interested in dance; I just knew how to dance really well. I had a really, I think, deep sense of my body from a very early age."
She attended the California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, graduating at the age of 28 with a B.A. She received her MFA from the University of California, San Diego. Weems also participated in the folklore graduate program at the University of California, Berkeley. While in her early twenties, Weems was politically active in the labor movement as a union organizer. Her first camera, which she received as a birthday gift, was used for this work before being used for artistic purposes. She was inspired to pursue photography after coming across The Black Photography Annual, a book of images by Black photographers including Shawn Walker, Beuford Smith, Anthony Barboza, Ming Smith, Adger Cowans, and Roy DeCarava.
This led her to New York City and the Studio Museum in Harlem, where she began to meet other artists and photographers such as Coreen Simpson and Frank Stewart, and they began to form a community. In 1976, Weems took a photography class at the Museum taught by Dawoud Bey. She returned to San Francisco but lived bi-coastally and was invited to teach at the Studio Museum and a community of photographers in New York.
She achieved prominence through her early 1990s photographic project The Kitchen Table Series. Her photographs, films, and videos focus on serious issues facing African Americans today, including racism, sexism, politics, and personal identity. Awards In her almost 30-year career, Weems has won numerous awards. She was named Photographer of the Year by the Friends of Photography. In 2005, she was awarded the Distinguished Photographer's Award in recognition of her significant contributions to the world of photography.
Her talents have also been recognized by numerous colleges, including Harvard University and Wellesley College, with fellowships, artist-in-residence, and visiting professor positions. She taught photography at Hampshire College in the late 1980s. She was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2013. In 2015 Weems was named a Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellow. In September 2015, the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research presented her with the W. E. B. Du Bois Medal.
She once said, "Let me say that my primary concern in art, as in politics, is with the status and place of Afro-Americans in the country." More recently, however, she expressed that "Black experience is not really the main point; rather, complex, dimensional, human experience and social inclusion ... is the real point." She is Artist in residence at Syracuse University. She lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and Syracuse, New York with her husband Jeffrey Hoone. Weems is one of six artist-curators who made selections for Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection in 2019/20.
Photo by Jerry Klineberg