Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue is organized by the Grand Rapids Art Museum, with presenting support generously provided by MillerKnoll. Additional support is provided by Wege Foundation, Agnes Gund, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Eenhoorn, LLC.
Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue brings together a focused selection of work from a period of over forty years by two of today’s most important and influential photo-based artists.
Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems, both born in 1953, came of age during a period of dramatic change in the American social landscape. Since meeting at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1976, the two artists have been intellectual colleagues and companions. Over the following five decades, Bey and Weems have explored and addressed similar themes: race, class, representation, and systems of power, creating work that is grounded in specific African American events and realities while simultaneously speaking to a multitude of human conditions. This exhibition, for the first time, brings their work together to shed light on their unique trajectories and modes of presentation, and their shared consciousness and principles.
From the outset of their careers, both Bey and Weems have operated from a deep social commitment to participate in, describe, and define culture. In seeking to express themselves fully, both artists have expanded possibilities within photography and video to address their chosen subjects. Each engaged in the material and conceptual developments in the art world that were gaining prominence beginning in the 1970s, just as their careers were developing. As Bey and Weems have continued to push their own work forward, their art and approach have inspired notable younger artists such as LaToya Ruby Frazier, Lyle Ashton Harris, Mickalene Thomas, and Hank Willis Thomas.
Both Bey and Weems create work in focused series that gives them the opportunity to fully explore their complex and layered ideas. Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue is arranged in five sections that present the two artists’ work in thematic pairings, emphasizing both their mutual concerns and distinct artistic approaches.
This exhibition pairs the two artists’ work in five sections that emphasize both their distinct artistic approaches and their shared interests and concerns: Early Work, Broadening the Scope, Resurrecting Black Histories, Memorial and Requiem, and Revelations in the Landscape. Also featured in the exhibition are videos by Bey and Weems that show their approaches to the moving photographic image as an extension of their still photographic series.
Beginning with Early Work, viewers will travel through the 35mm photography Bey and Weems captured at the outset of their careers, embracing both spontaneous scenes of city life, and more quiet, domestic interactions. In Broadening the Scope, Bey and Weems begin staging their photographs — Bey capturing posed street portraits of young subjects in urban environments and Weems staging her groundbreaking, narrative-based Kitchen Table Series.
In Resurrecting Black Histories, we see the artists’ deepened interest in documenting places and moments heavy with historical importance. Bey captures safe houses and meeting sites in near darkness along the Underground Railroad of Ohio, while Weems’ somber Sea Island Series explores the African legends and folklore that was retained within the Gullah culture of the Southern United States. In Memorial and Requiem, both artists become full-fledged in their commitment to cultural documentation, paying homage to tragic historic events. In the final section, Revelations in the Landscape, the artists return to a more distanced observation, contemplating the effects of time through location. Bey revisits Harlem, now photographing the effects of gentrification in color, while Weems appears in her own shots against the ancient structures of Rome, clad all in black as she guides the viewer through age-old institutional powers abroad.