Magazine article Artforum International

Carrie Mae Weems: Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University

Magazine article Artforum International

Carrie Mae Weems: Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University

Article excerpt

When Newcomb College at Tulane University commissioned Carrie Mae Weems to create new work commemorating the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase, she made several sets of photographs, a video projection, and sets of video stills in which she juxtaposed sites of slavery and antebellum pomp with the industrial locales of the "New South." In the photos, Weems herself appears in period costume; for the videos, she shot footage of a Mardi Gras ball off the TV and integrated it into her own imagery of contemporary and Civil War-era maids, mistresses, and masters in shadowy silhouette. Both photos and video evince a fascination with architecture and the way it anchors history. Though the work here is black and white, the content spans the moral spectrum.

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Photographed busts of ambitious Napoleon and canny Thomas Jefferson hung inside oval-shape period frames at the entrance to the exhibition. In another photograph, Weems, dressed in a slave's calico dress with her back to the viewer, regards a curved plantation staircase; elsewhere, she contemplates a spiraling staircase that hugs the side of a petrochemical tank--one of a species that has displaced many stately Taras along the river road and that serves as a source of employment for many Louisiana African Americans. Weems's cool composure in these contexts suspends her in time. Where or in what epoch does she belong: to the ancient mutes of these lawns and rooms, or with the workers in the chemical plants of the contemporary South? She lets us follow as she tracks history in period attire, treading along the railroad (the freedom road?) or stepping resolutely toward a graveyard.

For all the sobriety of these photos and videos, there's also an Emma Goldmanish "If I can't dance, I don't want to be in your revolution." In one photograph, a celebratory Weems twirls through a white-as-alabaster interior that recalls a room in Walker Evans's 1935 photos of the Belle Grove plantation. …

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