Carrie Mae Weems & David Alan Grier: In Conversation

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Carrie Mae Weems and David Alan Grier have an intimate discussion on a range of topics including childhood idols, the definition of blackness, race and politics during Obama’s presidency, and a desire to make work that addresses not only personal identity but also the broader human condition.

With the pitch and timbre of an accomplished storyteller, Carrie Mae Weems uses colloquial forms-jokes, songs, rebukes-in photographic series that scrutinize subjectivity and expose pernicious stereotypes. Weems’s vibrant explorations of photography, video, and verse breathe new life into traditional narrative forms-social documentary, tableaux, self-portrait, and oral history. Eliciting epic contexts from individually framed moments, Weems debunks racist and sexist labels, examines the relationship between power and aesthetics, and uses personal biography to articulate broader truths. Whether adapting or appropriating archival images, restaging famous news photographs, or creating altogether new scenes, she traces an indirect history of the depiction of African Americans for more than a century. Carrie Mae Weems is featured in the Season 5 (2009) episode Compassion of the Art in the Twenty-First Century television series on PBS. Download-to-own the full episode from iTunes.

David Alan Grier started his career in New York, on Broadway in the production of “The First” playing the role of Jackie Robinson for which he was nominated for a Tony Award. Grier has appeared in many productions on the New York stage, including “Soldiers Play”, and Shakespeare In The Park. On Broadway he has been seen in “Dream Girls”, “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum”, and starred in “Race”, written and directed by David Mamet, for which he received a Tony nomination. Grier has appeared in over 30 films, most recently “Dance Flick”, “The Woodsman”, “Bewitched”, and “The Poker House”. Grier won the Golden Lion award for best actor for the film “Streamers” directed by Robert Altman at the Venice film festival. On television he has appeared in “The Chocolate News” and for four seasons in the Emmy award winning series “In Living Color”. Grier is the author of the book “Barack Like Me: The Chocolate Covered Truth”. Grier has been an avid collector of art, and has collaborated on a performance piece “The Alchemy Of Comedy, Stupid” with the artist Edgar Arceneaux which was included in the 2008 Whitney Biennial.

VIDEO | Producer: Ian Forster, Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Camera & Sound: Ian Forster & Nick Ravich. Additional Camera: Erica Matson. Editor: Ian Forster & Joaquin Perez. Artwork Courtesy: Carrie Mae Weems. Photos Courtesy: Roberts J. Saferstein & Comedy Central. Thanks: CORE:club, Pablo de Ritis & Jason Smith.

Contributor
Wesley Miller is the associate curator at ART21. Miller co-curates the television series Art in the Twenty-First Century. He is also co-creator of the series New York Close Up.
  1. Nettrice says:

    This was kind of short! Last week I joined a group of people from various backgrounds and vocations in a heated Obama talk on someone’s Facebook wall. Black people who supported Obama were automatically labeled “apologists” and it quickly became personal but some of us stuck it through to find a common ground. I think some fear that the issues that are relevant to black people/communities are not being openly addressed by the current administration for fear of backlash from the mainstream (ex. Henry Louis Gates Jr.).

    Once again I am reminded of Langston Hughes’ essay, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”. Here’s one excerpted paragraph:

    “Certainly there is, for the American Negro artist who can escape the restrictions the more advanced among his own group would put upon him, a great field of unused material ready for his art. Without going outside his race, and even among the better classes with their “white” culture and conscious American manners, but still Negro enough to be different, there is sufficient matter to furnish a black artist with a lifetime of creative work. And when he chooses to touch on the relations between Negroes and whites in this country, with their innumerable overtones and undertones surely, and especially for literature and the drama, there is an inexhaustible supply of themes at hand. To these the Negro artist can give his racial individuality, his heritage of rhythm and warmth, and his incongruous humor that so often, as in the Blues, becomes ironic laughter mixed with tears. But let us look again at the mountain.”

    It is not a post-racial or color-blind America…yet. Maybe not ever until people of all walks of life can openly discuss these or similar issues. Perhaps artists will be the ones to lead the way.

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  2. Gary Johnson says:

    I completely agree with you. We do not live in a post-racial America unfortunately. Even with President Obama’s election, (which signifies how far we have come, no doubt) those that are determined to get him out of office, simply have a problem with his race! This is my opinion but I strongly believe that had President Obama been white, the Republican special interest group (aka tea party). Wouldn’t have existed. The main reason this administration isn’t emphasizing issues regarding race as strongly as many of us probably wanted is primarily because it would be Self-fulfilling prophecy to those that were opposed to him in the first place. Also, with all loudest voices being the ones that feel Obama is worthless, he definitely don’t need the media exaggerating that Obama plays favortism. He has out vote :-).

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