Weems Stories African American Experience at Art After Dark

Art After Dark

On Friday, the artist Carrie Mae Weems, renowned in the fields of text, fabric, audio, digital images, installation video, and photography, held an exhibition at the McMullen Museum of Art’s Student Opening.

The atmosphere was inviting—students came in droves to see the exhibit, while those working the event had countless activities to engage in along with the exhibits. The setting was bright and relaxed upon entering—people came and went as they wished—but the feeling did vary depending on where one was. Once in the exhibit, the feeling changed:The intensity of the exhibit forced an immediate change in mood, as people were forced to deal with and discuss a litany of serious issues.

While exhibit technically only covered two floors, many of the interactive activities were held on the first floor. Upon entering, you’re greeted with a treasure hunt as you’re handed a list with certain items to find before being led into the first floor of the exhibit. There was a nice array of canapes and deserts being served near the entrance, as well as several activities like button making and an interactive self-portrait project. Students were told to a picture of themselves—you had the choice to “grin” or “bear it”—and using the picture to express your thoughts about the current state of the country.

On the top floor, there was great set up of a list of world issues (gun reform, climate change, and racism were some of the many issues listed). You were tasked with deciding which of the many issues were important to you. Beside this, there was a screening of Dear White People set up outside. Along with these activities were performances by Sexual Chocolate, F.I.S.T.S (Females Incorporating Sisterhood Through Step), and B.E.A.T.S (Black Experience in America Through Song), who delivered a great rendition of “Blue Lights” by Jorja Smith. The crowd loved every act, cheering on the performers relentlessly and taking in the entirety of their performances.

The work of Carrie Mae Weems, while focusing mainly on the African American Experience, also covers aspects of the American experience as a whole. The work itself—mainly photographic but also consisting of two extremely provocative movies—was a cool mix of somber, empowering, and extremely thought-provoking material.

One exhibit on the second floor covered the 1960s, which Weems and many others believe to be one of the most tragic periods in American history. The death of many important American heroes and thinkers resulted in the death of hope and an unalterable change in the American psyche, according to Weems. She opted to represent this change with a set of photos taken with the help of college students, who were used as subjects to express the pain and uncertainty of the time.

There was also a thrilling set of photos in which Weems took a slanderous interpretation of African Americans as animals in New Orleans, and flipped the interpretation on its head, using photos of individuals in tuxedos and animal masks—one with a monkey mask on—to show the class of African Americans. While the treasure hunt was ongoing, people were rarely talking above a whisper, taking in the entirety of the exhibit.

The third floor continued with the theme, taking it even further. There was a range of photos: One set focused on the interpretation of African Americans in popular culture by showing African-American individuals with stereotypical items associated with them—there was a black man holding a watermelon and a black woman holding a chicken. Weems also took aim at the negative representation of African American women in American culture, flipping it on its head by taking charge of the narrative to empower women who may have felt as if they were victims of the narrative associated with them. One of the saddest set of photos was focusing on the deaths of a litany of young African American men through police brutality, which ranged from that of 12-year-old Tamir Rice to 43-year-old Eric Garner.

Overall, the student opening of the McMullen Museum was both a beautiful and thought provoking one, capturing a range of emotions through important photography and video that left viewers thinking of a litany of important issues that covered a variety of people and their experiences. It was definitely worth checking out, and hopefully won’t be the last of that kind.

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