Audio Guide - Adult
Carrie Mae Weems, American, b. 1953
Medium: C-prints with sandblasted text on glass
Composition: 43 1/2 x 33 3/8 in. (110.5 x 84.8 cm)
Sheet: 26 3/4 x 22 3/4 in. (67.9 x 57.8 cm)
Credit Line: Memphis Brooks Museum of Art purchase; funds provided by the Morrie A. Moss Acquisition Fund, Kristi and Dean Jernigan, Storage USA, and Art Today; additional funding from Kaywin Feldman and Jim Lutz, Rodney and Andrea Herenton, Elliot Perry and Gayle Rose
Object Number: 2001.1a-j
Copyright: © Carrie Mae Weems
Not on view
Carrie Mae Weems was commissioned by the J. Paul Getty Museum to respond to Hidden Witness: African Americans in Early Photography, an exhibition of mid-19th-century photographs. She rephotographed some of those images (along with late-20th-century photographs by Garry Winogrand and Robert Mapplethorpe), enlarged them, printed them in saturated color, and covered the photographs with glass etched with text to create an installation of thirty-two components. The color, images, and text combine in From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried to initiate an exploration of slavery and racial discrimination.
Her interest in politics appeared in Weems’ work from the beginning—she began taking pictures of left-wing political events, including antiwar demonstrations and feminist marches, in the early 1970s. Adopting the documentary model of photographers such as Roy DeCarava, and appropriating both historical and contemporary imagery, she strives to effect social change through her art. Like her contemporaries Lorna Simpson and Barbara Kruger, Weems works with series of images to give visual form to an idea. She further conceptualizes her artwork through the introduction of text, engaging the viewer in an actual discussion regarding the images presented.
That discussion begins here as the viewer reads the title, grapples with the identity of the “I”, and questions what, exactly, has been seen. One position that can be taken is that of the African woman, who is appropriated from George Specht’s 1927 photograph Nobosodru, a Mangbetu Woman, in the framing diptych. What she is witnessing in the central section—blood red images and charged text—produces an effect that is anything but neutral. Through the words on the final panel, the speaker emphatically empathizes with the victims of slavery and discrimination. Hence, for viewers, the process of determining who the “I” is—themselves, the artist, or the African woman—is central to the work.