Carrie Mae Weems - MJB (Mary J. Blige) – Reflection, 2017 - 2020
For the 23nd "Safety Curtain" at the Wiener Staatsoper, the jury (Daniel Birnbaum, Hans Ulrich Obrist and newly also Bice Curiger) selected the internationally renowned US-American artist Carrie Mae Weems.
Her work "Queen B" (see hereunder) can be seen by the audience from 7 September 2020 until early June before the start of the performances, during the intermissions and at the end of the performances.
On the occasion of the project, a limited and signed edition by Weems is available at museum in progress. By purchasing the edition, art and opera enthusiasts will be making an important contribution to the continuation of the "Safety Curtain" exhibition series.
Medium: Fujiflex on Alucubond
Size: 60 x 70 cm
Edition of 70
Signed and numbered on the back
Price: € 1,680 (excl. 5% VAT within the EU) NEARLY SOLD OUT !!!
This limited edition Carrie Mae Weems print is available at Museum in Progress
Hans Ulrich Obrist: In a conversation between you and Mary J. Blige you said: ‘Long before I picked up a camera I was deeply concerned with the ways in which AfricanAmericans were depicted, and, for the most part, I didn’t like what I saw. So one way of dealing with it was to step in and rethink how Black women, more specifically, need to be represented.’ Can you tell us about this quote?
Carrie Mae Weems: I’m not only concerned with how African Americans are represented – that matters to me, of course, but I’m really interested in the notion of representation, generally speaking. How are men presented in the world and what does that tell us about the expectations of men? How are women presented and how are blondes presented next to brunettes? There’s this sort of deep level of notions of ideals about what is conveyed through media, through culture, through drama, through song, through TV, which for the most part is attempting and has historically attempted to shape our values around how we think of ourselves. It’s a very deep and troubling aspect of cultural production that we’ve all been involved in one way or another.
I realised that for the most part the representation of the Black body was a sort of demoralisation of the Black body. A constant disregard for the Black body, or it simply operated as an outlier, at least in the construction of identity. I found this very perplexing and disturbing as a young person, because it didn’t represent anything I knew in the world around me. The stereotypes were so brutal and they were so painful. These images were meant to really demoralise the Black subject, and they did their job quite well.
James Baldwin said that my sense of responsibility as an artist is to bear witness to the moment in which I live and to tease out what it means, and then to offer it and to share it with the public who has the right to know. I’ve simply attempted to offer other alternatives, a counternarrative to the dominant narrative. To mark it and to name it, to call it by its name. To articulate it and to ask the difficult questions that most of us really don’t want to ask ourselves.
HUO: And this is so important.
CMW: Now we find ourselves at this extraordinary moment, whether we are in Europe or the United States, where we’re all feeling this crack and this shift, and this emergence of nationalisms that have now reared their heads as a way of combating what they’ve lost.
HUO: Édouard Glissant said that the ‘quivering’ or the ‘trembling’ transcends established systems of thought and subjects itself to the unknown. ‘Utopia is a reality where one can meet with the other without losing himself.’¹ I think it connects to what you just said.
CMW: There is a sense that you are losing yourself as a result of the rise of the other. And part of the greatest fear on the right is that there is going to be a kind of retaliation, and almost a deserved retaliation with the systematic dismissal and this treatment of people. But I think probably the one thing that I find so amazing and so complex, is that absolutely nothing in one way has changed. Except it’s all more pronounced and it’s been echoed, there are echoes of it everywhere, in one form or another.
HUO: For Vienna you decided to revisit your collaboration with Mary J. Blige for ‘W’ magazine.
CMW: Mary is a very careful woman concerned about how Black women are experienced and understood, and what they look like. We came together, I designed the sets that I felt were beautiful, playful and lush, bringing in lots of artifacts and objects by other artists, and impressing them into the scene. And then just having Mary come in to be Queen B, I thought it’ll be so precious. We were always using her reflection, so she’s looking at herself, she’s studying herself, questioning her gaze, and she is always aware of the way in which she is being represented, and sometimes doubtful of how she is being represented.
HUO: In your conversation with Mary you said that the act of crowning had to do with an image of the singer Dinah Washington. Can you tell us about this image and how it connects to the crowning of Mary J. Blige?
CMW: I appropriated an image of Dinah Washington, who was considered the queen of blues, the queen of jazz. And of course there’s JeanMichel Basquiat’s constant use of the crown in relationship to jazz and music, and African American cultural utterance, expressive utterance, these ideas were there. Ultimately, I wanted to make a gift to Mary. I knew that she had gone through an extraordinary battle in her life, that she’d lost people who were very important to her, that she’d just gone through a very difficult divorce and she’d come out on the other side of that. So gifting her and recognizing her genius, her place in the cultural sphere was what I wanted. I thought that she deserved to be crowned, that she deserved to be anointed as who she is: a woman who survived to tell her tale in a deep and complex way and moved on. I’m not interested in the positive story. I’m interested in the complex story that allows for the humanness of the subject to pull through it all.
¹ Cf. documenta (13): Édouard Glissant & Hans Ulrich Obrist, 100 Notes – 100 Thoughts, No. 038, Hatje Cantz 2012, pp. 5–6.