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Carrie Mae Weems. From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried. 1995

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Carrie Mae Weems (American, born 1953)

From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried

Chromogenic color prints with sand-blasted text on glass
28 works: 26 3/4 x 22" (67.9 x 55.8 cm); 4 works: 22 x 26¾" (55.8 x 67.9 cm); 2 works: 43 1/2 x 33 1/2" (110.4 x 85 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift on behalf of The Friends of Education of The Museum of Modern Art
MoMA Number:
© 2015 Carrie Mae Weems
Audio Program excerpt

Carrie Mae Weems


MoMA2000: Open Ends (1960-2000)

, September 28, 2000-March 4, 2001

I was trying to look at the history of photography and the way in which African Americans had been particularly depicted and inscribed through and in American photography. I used images that were preexisting, and my intervention was to re-inscribe them by making them all consistent, in terms of size and scale and format and adding the use of color so that, for instance, I used the color red to annunciate the image. I wanted to use oval or circular mats because I wanted to have that sense of looking through the photographic lens, which is a round surface.

The photographs were made for very, very different reasons originally—at least, most of them were. They were intended to undercut the humanity of Africans and of African Americans in particular. This way of looking at the African as subject says a great deal more about Anglo–American photographers than it does about the African subject. When we're looking at these images, we're looking at the ways in which Anglo-America, white America, saw itself in relationship to the black subject, so that in a way you're looking at a very interesting aspect of Anglo-American culture. When we turn to looking at black subjects, that idea is lost. So, I wanted to intervene in that by giving a voice to a subject that historically has had no voice.

I used this idea of "I saw you and you became" as a way of both speaking out of the image and to the subject of the image. For instance, I say, "You became an anthropological debate and a photographic subject." I'm trying to heighten a kind of critical awareness around the way in which these photographs were intended, and then of course, the way in which they are ultimately used by me—a strategy that I hope undercuts the original intention of the maker and then gives the subject another level of humanity and another level of dignity that was originally missing in the photograph.

In some ways I think, From Here I Saw What Happened is perhaps one of the more painful pieces that I've made. When I look at it, when I study it, I cry. It is a very sad piece, and, at the same time, of course, there's always hope that's located within sadness, as well. The hope that in the end our mutual humanity will be understood and embraced.

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