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 KayRodriques.com.
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.
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:
The artist as photographer and subject
All photos credit of the artist, Carrie Mae Weems
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, drue.net. 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?
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: