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Carrie Mae Weems & Kehinde Wiley

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Carrie Mae Weems
B. 1953, Portland, Oregon. Lives and works in Syracuse, New York.

From Erin Barnett, Director of Exhibitions and Collections, International Center of Photography:

Carrie Mae Weems has investigated gender, family relationships, cultural identity, sexism, class, political systems, and the relationships between power and representation for over 30 years. In From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1995), a multipart photographic project, Weems brackets well-known 19th- and 20th-century photographic representations of African Americans in the United States with two portraits of an African woman who laments what has happened to the African diasporic community. Weems’s accompanying text (“A Negroid Type,” “You Became a Scientific Profile”), which is etched on glass, creates distance from the original photographs, while calling out their racist intent.
The International Center of Photography (ICP) owns four works from the series, which use daguerreotypes of enslaved men and women in Columbia, South Carolina; they are currently on view at the ICP Museum as part of the exhibition “Your Mirror: Portraits from the ICP Collection.”Originally taken in 1850 by Joseph T. Zealy at the behest of Swiss biologist Louis Agassiz (who had emigrated to the United States and became one of the country’s most famous scientists), these daguerreotypes were intended to show the physical differences between African blacks and European whites. Agassiz and other scientists believed that the races evolved separately and that the white race was superior, thus supporting Southern views of slavery. By using these daguerreotype images, Weems calls attention to the role of photography in promoting racism.
Kehinde Wiley
B. 1977, Los Angeles. Lives and works in New York.

From Eugenie Tsai, John and Barbara Vogelstein Curator of Contemporary Art, Brooklyn Museum:

Kehinde Wiley’s paintings employ seductive, vivid color and lush ornamentation, so it’s sometimes hard to recognize just how political they are. I’ve regarded his painting Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps (2005) hundreds of times, as it hangs in the Brooklyn Museum’s Rubin Pavilion. I’ve come to see the artist’s oeuvre as a radical transformation of the monumental portraiture tradition—a holdover of the European ruling classes—into a topical political genre that critiques the historical (and current) state of racial and economic inequity in this country and around the world.
In these turbulent times, Wiley’s political engagement has become more pronounced. For a recent show at London’s Stephen Friedman Gallery, he addressed the issue of global migration and displacement by taking on the tradition of maritime painting for the first time. For a recent series exhibited at the Saint Louis Art Museum, based on historical portraits in its collection, he selected models from nearby Ferguson. Wiley is a connoisseur of power, and his paintings reveal his skill at deploying the visual cues and codes through which dominance and privilege are conveyed.
Then there’s his presidential portrait of Barack Obama, a representation of a “man-of-the-people” kind of power, not the absolutism of a Napoleonic emperor. By affirming the continued relevance of painting, mining the political potential of portraiture, and calling out and reassigning power and privilege, Wiley’s practice is totally in step with our times.

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