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Expanded Documentary

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Carrie Mae Weems, American, b. 1953
Untitled (Museum), 2007, 2007
Silver gelatin print on Paper
18 3/4 in. x 15 in. (47.63 cm x 38.1 cm)

Object Type: Photography
Technique: Gelatin silver Process
Credit Line: Gift of Samella Lewis
Accession Number: 2007.2.3

"With the Kitchen Table Series produced between 1987 and 1992, Weems began to focus on issues of gender and the role of the contemporary, black woman in American society. In the Kitchen Table Series, Weems creates a fictional narrative in which she plays the protagonist. The photographs are constructed around the kitchen table with a low hanging light illuminating the intimate, yet mundane scenes between a woman and her husband, her friends, her children, or the solitary moments to herself. This narrative character of Weems' photographs is evident in Untitled (Museum). The photograph is taken far away from its subjects. The viewer feels a great distance and separation from the woman in a long black dress who is equally isolated from the group of people ascending the steps and passing through the imposing colonnade to what one supposes is a museum entrance. The inertia of the woman in black contrasts with the movement of the other figures in the frame. Only the skirt of her dress lifts in the wind. The woman in black turns her back on the viewer, seeming to stare longingly at the group of people in front of her. Weems appears to be commenting on the exclusion of the black, woman artist from the Western European tradition. However, the strong composition of this photograph lacks a text, which would complete the narrative for the viewer. In this manner, the interpretation of the meaning of the photograph must be individual. What is certain is that Weems' photographs have challenged commonly held conceptions of the role of race, gender and human relationships in the United States."

Written by Megan Downing (SC '08), 2007-08 Academic Year Wilson Intern

A caryatid is a classical architectural feature—a column sculpted into the form of a woman wearing a loose garment. The name refers to the ancient Greek word for walnut, and, more specifically, the young women who danced at the annual celebration honoring Artemis of the Walnut Tree, or Artemis Karyatis. Perhaps the best-known caryatids are those that stood on the porch of the Erechtheion, the temple on the Acropolis. One of the ornate pillars was taken from the temple in the early 19th century and removed to England. Today, she stands on view at the British Museum, in London. In Carrie Mae Weems’s Untitled (Museum) (2007), a woman in a dark, loose-fitting dress stands facing the main entrance of the British Museum. Juxtaposed with the columns that loom opposite her, her figure is like that of a caryatid. She does not bear the weight of the museum’s façade, which dwarfs her, but there seems to exist a tension between her stiff body and the imposing building. People climb the steps toward the entrance, and others relax in the loggia, but she stands stiff, at a distance. Weems makes photographs and videos that represent the history of African Americans and the African diaspora. She repurposes vintage photographs and objects, and depicts historical sites and figures, to portray tragic events, well-known and anonymous individuals, and her past. As she illustrates a lesser-known history, she destabilizes the aura of familiar stories and recognizable images. In Untitled (Museum), she portrays an iconic institution. Paramount among museums, the British Museum signifies the Enlightenment that bore it and the Western history that its collection represents. Standing opposite its neoclassical façade, Weems’ dark figure suggests an alternate history—one that has been excluded from the museum’s narrative. As the figure stands alone, apart from the visitors who approach the museum, she appears to defy the museum’s grandeur and the history it tells. Zoe Larkin ’09 Wilson Intern 2008

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