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the 1980s, Carrie Mae Weems has consistently explored issues of gender,
race, and class, as well as the asymmetry of sociopolitical power
relations and their consequences, while constantly questioning the
status quo.

Carrie Mae Weems, Anointed, 2017
Carrie Mae Weems, Anointed, 2017 © Foto: Carrie Mae Weems. Courtesy: Carrie Mae Weems; Jack Shainman Gallery, New York; Galerie Barbara Thumm, Berlin

Her artistic practice spans photography, video, site-specific installations, texts, performances, and activist campaigns. Weems often uses visual quotations from historical, scientific, museum, and pop cultural contexts as an act of reappropriation and empowerment concerning the politics of representation in general, and of Black (hi-)stories and lived experiences in particular.

For the n.b.k. Billboard series, Weems adapted the photograph Queen B, which is part of an extensive series of images devoted to the R&B icon and actor Mary J. Blige. Weems produced the series in 2017. In context of the n.b.k. program, this work will be represented for the first time in the urban space. Here, it undergoes a temporal and spatial recontextualization to take on further narrative strands, for instance, with regard to current events surrounding the British monarchy.

Weems staged the opulent set for Queen B by recalling the pictorial structure and codes of baroque still-life painting – a reference to the “golden age” of Western European art and the economic growth of colonial powers based on exploitation. The abundant arrangement of flowers, fruits, crystal glass, and silver was enriched by the artist with artifacts such as a Bambara Tyi Wara headdress from Mali and an ebony figurine from Nigeria, as well as objects by contemporary artists such as Kehinde Wiley, suggesting wider narrative threads around power and beauty. With the crown motif, Weems also references Jean-Michel Basquiat, who used it in his art as a recurring symbol associated with expressions of Black culture.

Multidimensional perspectives that do justice to the complexity of humanity are central to Weems’ oeuvre. She reflects on representations of power and examines the objectifying gaze inscribed in the history of the medium of photography. In her meticulously composed works, Weems deliberately seeks to destabilize and reverse (historical) power relations.

The work Queen B follows on from Weems’ earlier Slow Fade to Black – the 2010 series pays homage to Black musicians and cultural figures of the 20th century, including Dinah Washington, Nina Simone, Leontyne Price, Mahalia Jackson, Shirley Bassey, Ella Fitzgerald, Abbey Lincoln, Eartha Kitt, and Koko Taylor.

  • Curator: Lidiya Anastasova

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