BOMB THE ROOT: The Carrie Mae Weems Interview

In this 2009 interview culled from BOMB magazine's digital archives, photographer Carrie Mae Weems talks about living and working in Rome, power and its consequences and why, even after Barack Obama's election, black folks continue to lead invisible lives.

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Like so many African-American artists, Carrie Mae Weems' artistic career began at the Studio Museum in Harlem. In the mid-1970s, back when the museum occupied a loft “above a Kentucky Fried Chicken,” the museum hired established artists to teach local residents studio art. As Dawoud Bey tells it, on the first day of his class in walked a timid looking young woman with “big expressive eyes,” who asked him if he thought she could be a photographer.

Thirty odd years later, Weems is one of the most established American photographers working today. Her work, which has stretched outside of photography into sculpture, performance and video, has been almost single-mindedly focused on deconstructing the visual representation of race. Famous bodies of work have critiqued the history of ethnographic photography and examined the psychological impact of white beauty standards on black women.

In this BOMB Magazine interview from this past summer, conducted by her longtime friend, and one-time teacher, Dawoud Bey, Weems speaks about her sojourn in Rome as the recipient of the Prix de Rome and how she believes that despite the election of Barack Obama, black Americans continue to suffer from “invisibility” or a lack of representation in America’s cultural conscience.

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville is set to open a retrospective of Carrie Mae Weem’s artistic career in 2011.

Read the full interview from BOMB Magazine Issue 108, Summer 2009.