This is Not a Prequel!


My previous post, “Another Fairy Tale” is now a feature of my art blog. The story started out as a drawing, developed into text and has become the basis for my painting, “They Played to Their Hearts’ Content.” For the pre-story (the actual drawings that led to the story), please visit my art blog at

She is her Own Muse

weems 00

Detail from, “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried” (1995–96)


“Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video,” Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University, Stanford, through January 5, 2014

Perhaps not since Frida Kahlo, has a visual artist so brazenly inserted her own likeness into her creations. Thankfully, this preoccupation with self eventually extends into a larger world, the world of African Americans and their identification as such.

Often, when Weems is both photographer and subject, as in the “Kitchen Table Series,” the photographs seem narcissistic, as if the artist is her own muse. This may very well be the case. But although Weems has once again placed herself in front of the camera in the “Museum Series” and “Not Manet’s Type,” these latter photographs are arresting and poignant. Here Weems has metamorphosed from simply being the source of her own inspiration. Now she paints an isolating portrait of what many are afraid of being or becoming – phantoms and outsiders.

Most of Weems’s photographs are black and white or tinted. One series of tinted photographs — “Colored People Grid” — is striking in its simplicity. When juxtaposed next to “Family Pictures and Stories,” the empty spaces make one wonder: Are there people missing? If yes, who? What are their stories? Will these stories be told and if so, who will tell them? How will they be told? These it seems, are precisely the questions that Weems has been asking all along. She has done a good job excavating truths and untruths and in so doing, has helped create a new history of the African American experience. That she cannot tell it without telling her own story has been her point all along.

Selected Photographs

In these tinted photographs — part of the series, “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried” (1995–96)” — the artist appropriated early photographs and text that have been used to stereotype African Americans:

Weems 1- From Here I Saw

The artist as photographer and subject

Weems 2- Standing Outside the Louvre
Standing outside the Louvre, from “The Museum Series,” c. 2007

Weems 3 -detail from Not Manet's Type


Weems 4 -Colored People Grid
“Untitled (Colored People Grid)” (2009-10) – 11-pigment ink print and colored clay papers framed
Weems 5- family pictures
“Family Pictures and Stories: Family Reunion” (1978-84) – gelatin silver print

All photos credit of the artist, Carrie Mae Weems

After the Celestial Axe

After the Celestial Axe - detail
photo credit:

Photographs and a short video of After the Celestial Axe (see my April 2013 article, “New Sculpture at Djerassi“), are now available at the artist’s site, My own personal encounter with the sculpture won’t be until the end of summer, when I lead an outdoor art hike at Djerassi.

After the Celestial Axe is beautiful and changes constantly, as is to be expected of mirrors placed outdoors. They capture the changing landscape, from moving clouds and shaking tree limbs to light and dark. The nature lover in me is concerned about the potential hazard to wildlife, particularly birds. You can hear them chirping in the video. I cannot imagine what the blinding light does to them when the sun hits the piece. (There are 27 parts to this sculpture!) And how do the other animals fare with this glare? There are deer and bobcat, for example, in this area. What is the effect on them?

New Sculpture at Djerassi: “After the Celestial Axe”

After the Celestial Axe - detail
detail (credit: the artist, Drue K., April 2013)
Fall of the Celestial Axe

Where: Woodside, CA (in the Santa Cruz Mountains, “near” the towns of Sky Londa and La Honda)

Note: Djerassi is also known as Djerassi SMIP Ranch.

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Updated: 5/4/13 — Above is a part of the sculpture, “After the Celestial Axe”. This is my favorite section. It looks like a woman and man in embrace and possibly a child, a baby, is in her arms. I see what I see and this may not be what anyone else sees and may not be what the artist herself sees. I will post more photos of this piece later this month.

As of April 2013, there is a new sculpture at Djerassi. It is by artist, Drue Kataoka whose inspiration for the piece is the fallen oak tree pictured below. The artist has incorporated the sculpture into the tree and the tree into the sculpture. She calls this work “After the Celestial Axe,” and describes it as follows:

“A giant axe fell from the skies, leaving a sparkling residue of starry formations.  Twenty-seven surfaces of frothy mirror fragments, shaped & arranged with a high degree of optical awareness, create dynamic intersections of multiple refraction planes.  From afar, these reflective arrangements sparkle in the sun; but when examined more closely, they break, distort & expand the boundary between viewer & artwork, allowing both viewer & environment to infiltrate the world of the artwork.”
Fallen Heritage Oak, picnic grounds at Djerassi (credit: Djerassi)
Fallen Heritage Oak, picnic grounds at Djerassi (credit: Djerassi)
When I was last at Djerassi about two weeks ago, pieces of the sculpture lay on the floor near the artists’ residences, far away from the tree. There Drue fused shards of mirrored glass onto the many surfaces of wood. A work in progress, the artist would later assemble the mirrored wood by the tree. Would she lay them on the ground? Would she assemble some on the tree itself? In what order would they be juxtaposed, one to the other? These questions have now been answered. The sculpture is complete. In the next month or so I will visit and take pictures. Look for them in a follow-up post.
About the Artist, Courtesy of Djerassi
Drue Kataoka is a Palo Alto based artist and Stanford Alumni who now has commissions all over the world, even in outer space! She participated in the Zero Gravity Art Exhibit at the International Space Station. The piece, “After the Celestial Axe,” was made by cutting slices of the tree with a chainsaw, sanding it down, sealing the wood, and adhering patterns of broken mirror to the surface.
Some interesting conversations about the tree are on Djerassi’s Facebook page at
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ACTIVITIES: Guided hikes and outdoor art tours; one month artist residencies
REGION: In the Santa Cruz Mountains
HOURS: Open to the public on a limited basis from April through November; annual open house in July
COST: Free and paid hikes
LOCATION/VENUE: Djerassi Resident Artists Program, 2650 Bear Gulch Rd  Woodside, CA 94062
Phone: (650) 747-1250

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