In keeping with a passionate commitment to improving the human condition though her art, Carrie Mae Weems has produced a broad trove of intellectually challenging and aesthetically compelling work that addresses issues of race, gender, and class and places her at the forefront of contemporary art. Yet to date there has not been a major museum survey devoted to this critically and socially engaged artist. The Frist Center for the Visual Arts, in Nashville, Tennessee, has organized a retrospective exhibition composed of approximately 125 photographs, videos, and installations from more than 25 series created over the last three decades. The works come from major collecting institutions, private collections, and the artist's own holdings. The Cleveland Museum of Art will be showing a smaller version of this exhibition. The artist was one of two contemporary artists to speak at the museum on the occasion of its east wing opening in 2009.
The first section of the exhibition will feature selections from the 1980s and early 1990s that explore the construction of identity, especially as it relates to race, sex, and class. The next section will feature works made in response to historical situations that have impacted African American identity, as well as that of other disempowered peoples. A third grouping will contain photographs that focus on the role of place in Weems’s examination of the underlying causes and effects of racism, slavery, and imperialism. A notion of universality is present throughout: while African-Americans are typically her primary subjects, Weems wants “people of color to stand for the human multitudes” and for her art to resonate with audiences of all races.