Influential contemporary American artist Carrie Mae Weems has, for the past 30 years, has investigated family relationships, cultural identity, sexism, class, political systems and the consequences of power. As the LSU School of Art’s 2017-18 Reilly Visiting Artist and Nadine Carter Russell Chair for the LSU College of Art & Design, Weems is broadening and making explicit these dialogues, and engaging the LSU and Baton Rouge communities.
Weems, described by New York Times art critic Holland Cotter as “a superb image maker and a moral force, focused and irrepressible,” has pushed contemporary discourse through her complex body of work, which incorporates photographs, text, fabric, audio, digital images, installation and video. She has participated in numerous exhibitions at major national and international museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Solomon Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Tate Modern in London, and the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo in Seville, Spain, and she is represented in collections around the world.
As the Nadine Carter Russell Chair, Weems worked with art students throughout the spring 2018 semester. She visited School of Art Dixon Smith Professor Kristine Thompson’s class to work with photography students on numerous projects throughout the 2017-2018 academic year.
During Weems’ initial visit in November 2017, she took part in a critique of student work in Thompson’s Intermediate Photography course. The students completed a project called “Bearing Witness,” in which each student selected a social or cultural issue that he/she felt passionate about and determined the best way to illustrate it in a photographic series, said Kristine Thompson, assistant professor of photography.
“Carrie’s work over the course of her career has grappled with issues of power, identity, and humanity, so it was a gift for the students to have someone with such visual acuity and social awareness to respond to these particular projects,” she said.
During that initial visit, Weems also planted the seeds for a collaborative project – a kind of time capsule – that she hoped to complete with students as a way of marking this particular political moment in time. On Weems’ most recent visit, three classes came together (Thompson’s Intermediate Photography class, Assistant Professor Johanna Warwick’s Advanced Digital Photography class, and graduate students in Associate Professor Kelli Scott Kelley’s Narrative Art seminar) to begin brainstorming for the collaborative project.
Students considered the function of time capsules and looked at examples ranging from The Golden Record to a time capsule buried on MIT’s campus, to contemporary artists who are making archives or time capsules that take many different visual forms, Thompson said. “The students suggested a range of possibilities, from something that is buried in the ground to a sculptural sarcophagus that would exist above ground, to a series of books that could be kept in the Special Collections Library and kept from view until twenty years from now,” she said. “As the conversations among those students has continued, it seems like the project might now take the form of a diorama of sorts. The goal is to have the project completed by the end of the summer!”
Weems also did one-on-one studio visits with a number of MFA students to connect more directly with students’ individual work and provide creative feedback, a rare opportunity for studio arts students.
“It has been eye-opening for our students to have interacted with Carrie Mae Weems over the past year,” Thompson said. “Undergraduate students who are at a critical, formative stage and graduate students who are embarking on careers of their own have all benefitted from working alongside such a well-known artist who works in a variety of mediums.”
MFA photography candidate Dason Pettit said working with a photographer as esteemed and renowned as Carrie Mae Weems was inspiring.
It has been informative for students to participate in a collaborative project as a way of engaging creative thinking, problem-solving, and compromise. “We are all excited to see these initial conversations and brainstorming sessions translate into a special, visual capsule of this moment in time—one that can also affect those who might open and experience it twenty years from now,” Thompson said. “Based on the ideas put forth by students, the project will have much to reveal about LSU, Louisiana, national politics, the environment, and global issues in 2018.”
Weems is the Nadine Carter Russell Chair and a Reilly Visiting Artist; the Reilly Visiting Artist Fund aims to bring artists of different disciplines to work with students at the LSU School of Art. “The LSU Museum of Art and the LSU School of Art will raise both of their visibilities in the larger community, outside of LSU, through hosting this internationally known artist, Carrie Mae Weems. She is a pioneer,” said Winifred Reilly, who established the Reilly Visiting Artist Fund with her husband, Kevin.
Weems gave a public lecture at the College of Art & Design on April 11, 2018. She spoke about what it means to be an artist, the act of appropriation in the context of creativity in the visual arts, and how to create in a conscious, impactful way. “The world is simply yours,” she told the room of LSU arts students. “The visual world belongs to you.”
She posed the question: “How do I intervene in the moment in which I live, impact it in a critical way?” Weems challenged the student artists to live consciously, and stated that she believes she will see many of them go on to have interesting careers.
The LSU Museum of Art’s annual collaborative exhibition with the LSU School of Art will feature two of Weems’ recent photographic and video series, “All the Boys” and “The Usual Suspects,” on display until Oct. 14, 2018. Images from these series confront viewers with stereotypes in the deaths of black men and women at the hands of police and judicial inaction. An excerpt from her “Louisiana Project” will welcome museum visitors — “While sitting upon the ruins of your remains, I pondered the course of history” — to signal the critical lens of identity, power, gender, race and class that Weems’ work will inspire. Selected works from Weems’ series will appear in the museum’s permanent collection.
About the Nadine Carter Russell Chair
The chair was created in 1998 by Paula G. Manship and named for her niece, a 1967 graduate of the College of Art & Design. The Nadine Carter Russell Chair enables the college to bring a prominent artist, designer or scholar to campus annually. The rotating chair provides outstanding opportunities for all four disciplines within the college and the community through leading courses and public lectures, and allows the college to meet a variety of curriculum needs.