Radical Acts

17 / 23

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

Carrie Mae Weems. From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried. 1995 251

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). Gift on behalf of The Friends of Education of The Museum of Modern Art. © 2018 Carrie Mae Weems

Artist, Carrie Mae Weems: I'm Carrie Mae Weems, and 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 pre-existing. And my intervention was to reinscribe 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 use 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.

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. I wanted to intervene in that by giving a voice to a subject that historically has had no voice. I use 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." But I'm trying to heighten the 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 gives the subject another level of humanity and another level of dignity that was originally missing in the photograph.

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.