Carrie Mae Weems: Artist Portrait

Carrie Mae Weems

Born 1953.
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Carrie Mae Weems Biography

Recognized as one of the most influential American artists working today, and for her
socially inspired and engaged oeuvre, the work of Carrie Mae Weems is multifaceted
both in medium and its examination of modern life—from familial relationships to
political power. Born in Portland, Oregon, in 1953, she initially showed an interest in
dance, and participated in local dance groups. At the age of 16, she had her first and only
child, which her mother, aunt, and sister helped raise. Following her graduation from
high school, she went on to study with Anna Halprin, a leading figure in postmodern-
dance in San Francisco, California. She continued to pursue dance for roughly a year-
and-a-half before she began questioning the value of the practice. As a consequence, she
mad a rather haphazard decision to move to New York City around her 18th birthday,
though she would continue to return to the West Coast, leading to a relatively bicoastal
life.

On her 20th birthday, Weems was gifted a camera, and, as she has stated, “the
magic of photography kind of hit.” Soon thereafter she began taking classes at the Studio
Museum in Harlem with Dawoud Bey and Roy DeCarava. She went on to earn her BA
from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California, in 1981, and her MFA
from the University of California, San Diego, in 1984, and her MA from the University
of California, Berkeley, in 1987. As she developed her practice of “image making,” her
work became increasingly political and socially conscious. Her first solo show, Family
Pictures and Stories (1984) was in direct response to the Moynihan Report of 1965,
which portrayed the black American familial structure, described as matriarchal, as
innately flawed. In the show, Weems presented black and white images of her own
family, both its the highs and lows, in whole. Weems’ practice and social engagement
went beyond just her work too: with her first show she stipulated it must be shown in
downtown San Diego rather than the affluent neighborhood of La Jolla, San Diego, rather
than the affluent neighborhood of La Jolla, so it could be seen by a more diverse
audience.

As her practice matured, she continued to address social and political themes,
including racism, sexism, and identity. She also expanded her use of medium, going on to
utilize audio, text, video—often combined into full installations. Her work has
consistently intrigued and inspired acclaim from critics, and over the course of her career
she has been honored with numerous awards and grants, including the first US
Department of State’s Medal of Arts, a MacArthur “Genius” grant, and the Prix de Roma.
She continues to live and work in upstate New York, and her work may be found at such
institutions as the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum
of Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

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