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Artist Carrie Mae Weems: ‘I want to invite you in’

Her photography has made profound statements about family, race and life in the US over the past 40 years

“When I walk into a room now in the US, people stand up and applaud,” says Carrie Mae Weems, in the rich warm voice that often provides a soundtrack to her work. “It seems like some critical generation has just emerged on the other side of the pandemic and Black Lives Matter, and I am exalted in some way that is beyond me.”

The American artist’s comments have more to do with forbearance than arrogance. Hers is a 40-year career, in which she has delivered exquisite bodies of work on charged subjects. Using photography, performance, film and sculpture, she has dug deep into the disparities of power, inequalities of gender and race and erosions of democracy in the US. Sometimes playing with found images, sometimes with herself as protagonist, the imagery she creates has inspired swaths of emerging practitioners, especially black artists.

“It seems I’ve grown in stature, although my work has been historically undervalued by the market and the institutions,” she says with some resignation, though the latter are playing hasty catch-up. “I wasn’t in collections for a long time, like 35 years, then somebody said . . . Oh!”

This summer, Weems has major exhibitions in both France and the UK. The Shape of Things has already opened at Luma, the lavish cultural centre established by philanthropist Maja Hoffmann in Arles. Reflections for Now comes to the Barbican Art Gallery in London on June 22. Perhaps we’ll finally get the message on this side of the pond, too: that Carrie Mae Weems deserves our fullest attention.

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