A Woman Observes, from the series Constructing History

Carrie Mae Weems, A Woman Observes, from the series Constructing History, 2008, archival pigment print, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2022.48.1, © Carrie Mae Weems. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Copied Carrie Mae Weems, A Woman Observes, from the series Constructing History, 2008, archival pigment print, 61 × 51 18 in. (154.9 × 129.9 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2022.48.1, © Carrie Mae Weems. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Artwork Details

Title
A Woman Observes, from the series Constructing History
Date
2008
Location
Not on view
Dimensions
61 × 51 18 in. (154.9 × 129.9 cm)
Copyright
© Carrie Mae Weems. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Credit Line
Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment
Mediums Description
archival pigment print
Classifications
Keywords
  • History
  • African American
  • Figure female — full length
Object Number
2022.48.1

Artwork Description

As a visiting professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2008, Carrie Mae Weems marked the fortieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s death by producing this photographic series with her students. Together, they reconstructed key moments of the 1960s, as well as images and events related to the broad subjects of civil and human rights.

The photographs are constructions, literally and metaphorically. The ever-present mechanism of their staging speaks to the constructed nature of all photographs, reminding viewers that seemingly neutral elements such as lighting and framing are, in fact, never neutral. In several, Weems and her students restaged iconic images from the canon of photojournalism, recalling the image-saturated news coverage of events like the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

They also used compositional tropes from Western art history. For instance, Mourning, a restaging of Moneta Sleet Jr.'s photograph of Coretta Scott King and Bernice King at Martin Luther King's funeral, was staged as a Pietà, in Christian art a representation of the Virgin Mary holding the body of her deceased son. Images of traumatic events like Sleet's may wound viewers at first, but their impact is blunted by time and repetition. Weems's reenactments reopen the wounds of history. They do so as a means of processing, reflecting, and laying those wounds to rest. They enact a kind of reconciliation, with and through images.

Exhibitions

Media - 2023.9A-G - SAAM-2023.9A-G_1 - 147614
Carrie Mae Weems: Looking Forward, Looking Back
September 22, 2023July 7, 2024
This focused exhibition pairs two projects by Carrie Mae Weems—a major multimedia installation and a series of photographs—that revisit moments from history.