SAM’s Teen Arts Group Meets Artist Dawoud Bey

On a fall day last November, 16 members of SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) gathered around the craft tables of the museum’s Nordstrom Art Studio. Today, instead of making art, they’d be talking art with one of the most significant artists working today, Dawoud Bey.

Bey had traveled to Seattle for SAM’s presentation of Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue, an exhibition that brings together the work of the two friends and mutual inspirations for the first time. Bey would be giving a public talk that evening, but during the day, he generously met with these future artists and leaders.

Founded in 2007, TAG is an intensive program for high school-aged youth who are interested in learning about themselves and the world through art. The program cultivates the voice and leadership of diverse young people who share their passion for the power of art to build community. The group comes together in weekly meetings from October to May, learning about the behind-the-scenes work of the museum, making art, and leading tours. Their work culminates in Teen Night Out, a free teens-only event held in May with DJs, live music performances, art tours, workshops, and art-making activities.

Bey talked with the teens about his relationship with art and photography when he was their age and how his passion for music as a young man influenced the way he would make art more than 30 years later. Artists in their own right, TAG members were eager to learn about Bey’s thought process as he positioned a model for his portraits. He revealed that he only ever accentuated a pose or gesture the person was already doing naturally. Bey illustrated the point with program intern Karla Pastrana, encouraging her to bring her relaxed arm more forward for the sake of the shot.

Left to Right: Lila, Sreshta, Cris, Kaz, Faith, Charlotte, Gwyneth, Dawoud Bey, Ronan, Mori, Corrina, Nivedita, Smriti, and Lylah.

Here are some reflections from various TAG members on the experience of meeting Dawoud Bey:

“It was an amazing opportunity to meet an artist like Dawoud Bey in person. It was really cool to get to hear about his story, creative process, and inspirations. I’m personally interested in the arts and museum industry myself so his advice was really insightful and inspiring.”

– Charlotte, 16

“My first impression was that he was a very thoughtful person. He took his time when he sought to communicate something, and did so with purpose. That careful observance was weaved into each of his photographs.”

– Sreshta, 17

“Meeting Dawoud Bey was inspiring for me because we had the opportunity to ask about his life and artistic process. I thought it was interesting to hear about what he was doing when he was a teenager and how he got into the art world by getting his first camera when he was a teen. Getting to talk to an artist like Dawoud Bey, who is so amazing and accomplished, is really incredible because it’s really easy to idolize artists, which they should be, but it’s important to remember that they are people and they started as teens just like us.”

– Lila, 15

Hot tip: Want to join TAG? Applications to join the 2023–24 TAG cohort will be available in spring 2023. Follow @samteens on Instagram for the latest updates!

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo Credit: Alborz Kamalizad.

Dawoud Bey: Photography that Keeps History Alive

The lens can be used all kinds of ways… Not just affirm or confirm the thing in front of the camera, but for my purposes, to actually reshape it in a subjective way.

– Dawoud Bey

How can photography be used to amplify Black voices in America? To commemorate the opening of Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue at SAM, we sat down with renowned American photographer Dawoud Bey to ask this question, talk about his friendship with Carrie Mae Weems, and discuss the significance of showing their photographs in conversation. Watch the video now to hear Bey reflect on what it means to break artistic hierarchies, bring history into our modern era, and tell the complex and powerful stories of Black Americans through a single frame. Don’t miss your chance to experience this limited-run exhibition at SAM before it closes on January 22—get your tickets before it’s too late!

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image Credits: Image Credits: “The Birmingham Project: Imani Richardson and Carolyn Mickel,” 2012, Dawoud Bey, American, b. 1953, archival pigment prints mounted to dibond, 41 x 65 ½ inches (two separate 40 x 32 inch photographs), © Dawoud Bey, Courtesy of Rennie Collection, Vancouver. “The Birmingham Project: Timothy Huffman and Ira Sims,” 2012, Dawoud Bey, American, b. 1953, archival pigment prints mounted to dibond, 41 x 65 1/2 inches (two separate 40 x 32 inch photographs), © Dawoud Bey, Courtesy of Rennie Collection, Vancouver. “Girls, Ornaments, and Vacant Lot, Harlem, NY,” from the series “Harlem Redux,” 2016, Dawoud Bey, American, b. 1953, archival pigment print, 40 x 48 inches, © Dawoud Bey, Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery. “Two Women at a Parade,” 1978, printed by 1979, Dawoud Bey, American, b. 1953, gelatin silver print, 16 5/8 x 20 5/8 inches, © Dawoud Bey, Grand Rapids Art Museum, Museum Purchase, 2018.21. “Man on the B26 Bus, New York, NY,” 1986, Dawoud Bey, American, b. 1953, gelatin silver print, 20 x 24 inches, © Dawoud Bey, Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery. “Young Man with his Hairbrush, Rochester, NY,” 1989, Dawoud Bey, American, born 1953, gelatin silver print, 30 5/16 x 25 5/16 inches, © Dawoud Bey, Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery. “Young Man at a Tent Revival, Brooklyn, NY,” 1989, Dawoud Bey, American, born 1953, gelatin silver print, 30 5/16 x 25 5/16 inches, © Dawoud Bey, Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery. “Young Girl Striking a Pose, Brooklyn, NY,” 1988, Dawoud Bey, American, b. 1953, gelatin silver print, 24 x 20 inches, © Dawoud Bey, Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery. “Peg’s Grandson,” Brooklyn, NY, 1988, Dawoud Bey, American, b. 1953, gelatin silver print, 20 x 24 inches, © Dawoud Bey, Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery.

Muse/News: Inspiration of Ambition, Artist Amends, and Wautier’s Moment

SAM News

Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue is now on view at SAM! Jerald Pierce of the Seattle Times shared highlights from the exhibition’s themes alongside photos by Erika Schultz. The review also appeared in the paper’s Sunday print edition. 

“Over the decades, these two artists have become known for their explorations of Black life in America, melding history with the present through intimate portraits, thoughtful landscapes and carefully crafted visual storytelling. Bey called their friendship a kind of “inspiration of ambition,” where the two photographers inspired each other to push the boundaries of their medium as they’ve watched photography evolve over the decades.”

The exhibition was also featured in the digital weekly Air Mail. 

And don’t miss Arte Noir’s interview with artist Inye Wokoma about his curatorial project as part of American Art: The Stories We Carry, also on view at SAM.

“I want people to see the gallery as an interrogation of the complexities of our personal and political relationships. Contemporary relationships that are often born of brutal histories.”

Local News

“Brings down the house with every number”: The Seattle Times’ Jerald Pierce also loved The Wiz at the 5th Avenue Theatre and thinks you should see it.

“Minimalist pleasures in a maximalist holiday season”: Here’s Brangien Davis’s most recent ArtSEA dispatch of what to see.

Evelyn Archibald for The Daily on Amends, Miha Sahari’s solo show on the University of Washington campus. 

“A core theme of Amends is the nature of past, present, and future. The artist revisits his home in many pieces, whether it be the portraits of his family, the cultural icons of Slovenia, or subconscious influence from his life in the Balkans.”

Inter/National News

Artnet’s Sarah Cascone on Eyes on Iran, a new public art installation “inspired by the ongoing women’s rights protest movement in Iran” that debuted recently at New York’s Roosevelt Island. One of the participating artists is Shirin Neshat; you can read more about her art and activism in this reflection by SAM staff photographer Alborz Kamalizad. 

Erin L. Thompson for Hyperallergic shares stories of the Red Orchestra, a group of young German artists who resisted Hitler. 

Milton Esterow of The New York Times reviews the first US exhibition of the work of 17th-century painter Michaelina Wautier, which is now on view at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. A work by Wautier is a beloved painting in SAM’s European collection—you can learn more about Boys Blowing Bubbles in this 2018 SAM Blog story

“The Boston show, said Marisa Anne Bass, a professor of art history at Yale University, ‘is part of a broader and important trend in scholarship on early modern European art, which no longer treats the recuperation of women artists as an end in itself but instead increasingly aims to recognize the central role of women as actors, thinkers and creators. To give women equal historical representation is not just about answering the concerns about the present. It is also about gaining a fuller understanding of the past.’”

And Finally

Sight and Sound is out once again with its list of the “Greatest Films of All Time.” DISCUSS. 

 Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Muse/News: Fresh Attention, Shark Tank, and Broken is Mended

SAM News

For Crosscut’s weekly ArtSEA dispatch, Brangien Davis is inspired by “fresh attention to art arrangement” at both the Frye Art Museum and at SAM in American Art: The Stories We Carry.

“…a striking section…includes a huge portrait by Kehinde Wiley, a tintype photo of a Lummi violinist by Will Wilson and a turn-of-the-century cast-bronze sculpture of an ‘Indian Warrior’ by Alexander Phimister Proctor. Each holds a long straight object: a rod, a violin bow, and a spear. Each prompts thoughts about who is portrayed in art and how.”

Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue opens Thursday, November 17! The exhibition—which brings together the work of these two legendary photographers for the first time—was featured in Crosscut’s list of “things to do in Seattle this November.”

“What connects their work, besides a friendship and a medium, is a shared timeframe and understanding of the power of photography as a way to explore—and celebrate—the experiences of Black people.”

And there’s a whole alphabet of fun from Gemma Alexander for ParentMap as she shares “Amazing A–Z PNW Winter Adventures Family Fun Workshops”—including SAM’s recurring Family Fun Workshops at both the Seattle Art Museum and the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

Local News

There’s a new venue in a very old space at the Pike Place Market. Crosscut’s Alexa Peters reports on the launch of The Rabbit Box.

The Seattle Times’ Jerald Pierce on the site-specific Saltwater Soundwalk, “a 55-minute listening experience that uplifts the stories and voices of Indigenous Coast Salish peoples.”

The Seattle Times’ Sandi Doughton on the development of the Seattle Aquarium’s new Ocean Pavilion, which will transform the downtown waterfront.

“‘This landscape that was dominated by a big, honking, gray, rumbling freeway will now be a massive public park for the people,’ says Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, whose district includes the waterfront. At the center of it all will be the Seattle Aquarium’s new Ocean Pavilion: a 50,000-square-foot exhibit space featuring sharks, rays, and other animals and ecosystems from the tropical Pacific.”

Inter/National News

Elaine Velie for Hyperallergic on the National Portrait Gallery’s seven new “Portrait of a Nation” commissions, including Serena and Venus Williams, Marian Wright Edelman, and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Artnet’s Vittoria Benzine catches you up on “Every Artwork Attacked by Climate Activists This Year, From the ‘Mona Lisa’ to ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring.’”

Artnet’s Sarah Cascone with a deep look at the new stained glass windows by artists Faith Ringgold and Barbara Earl Thomas at a residential college of Yale University.

“‘I took it as a huge responsibility,’ Thomas told Artnet News, noting that she had heard about the controversy surrounding the broken window, but never dreamed that she would become part of the story. ‘I feel quite emotional about it. This was a moment for me to be part of something far bigger than me.’”

And Finally

CBS Sunday Morning visits the new Museum of Broadway.

 Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: L. Fried.

Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems: Artists, Friends, and Inspirations

Two young artists meet in a photography class and become friends. It happens all the time. But the two people aren’t always Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems, who from that meeting at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1976 would go on to become two of the most celebrated photo-based artists working today. Over the next 46 years, Bey and Weems pursued their own practices, their artistic interests overlapping and diverging as they continued to be sources of friendship and inspiration to each other. Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue, coming to SAM as part of a national tour, marks the first time their work—the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions—has been shown in dialogue together. You are invited into their career-long conversations about art, culture, and history, all grounded in the lived experiences of Black Americans.

In Dialogue is organized in five thematic pairings. It explores the artists’ early work, as both Bey and Weems captured scenes of street life and domestic scenes with passers-by and family as subjects. Weems’ groundbreaking Kitchen Table series (1990), a fictional photo essay about women and their self-perceptions, signals a new direction combining text and image.

The artists have a mutual interest in the history of Black people in America and how history and lived experience manifests in landscapes and urban environments. Sites of historical importance surface in other contexts: Weems’ Sea Islands series (1991–1992) features locales of Gullah culture on the islands off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. To her lyrical images she adds accounts of oral history, mythology, and song. The history of slavery is confronted in Weems’ representations of 19th-century photographs of enslaved people—jarring images that turned the individuals into objects of racist study. In contrast, Bey’s Night Coming Tenderly, Black series (2017) turns the viewer in the position of a fugitive, arriving at nightfall at sites that were thought to be on the Underground Railroad, a network aiding enslaved people to freedom during the 19th century. In Weems’ most recent series, Roaming, she stages her own body within the city of Rome—a reminder of the city’s history, power, conquest, and domination from ancient to modern times.

Also on view in the exhibition are works that express the importance of commemoration in Black culture. Bey’s Birmingham Project (2019) memorializes the deaths of six young Black Americans murdered in the Alabama city in 1963, with portraits of present-day Birmingham-area children placed in diptychs with adults at the age the young people would have been today. Weems’ Constructing History series (2008) focuses on well-known images of 20th-century tragedies such as the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy, reenacting them with students and community members in Atlanta.

“The work of these two artists and friends have never been more relevant as we consider the meaning of multiple histories in our lives and surroundings,” says Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Contemporary Art.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

This article first appeared in the October 2022 through January 2023 article of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks.

Photo: Couple in Prospect Park, 1990 (printed 2018), Dawoud Bey, American, born 1953, gelatin silver print, 21 7/8 x17 ½ inches, Grand Rapids Art Museum, museum purchase, 2018.22. © Dawoud Bey, courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery.

Object of the Week: The Studio

One of the most influential Black American artists of the 20th century, Jacob Lawrence spent the latter years of his life living and working in Seattle, serving as a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Art. In 1977, seven years after his move, Lawrence painted The Studio, depicting himself in the attic of his Seattle studio. The Studio narrates Lawrence’s artistic journey of growing up in Harlem, moving westward, and his subsequent artistic development. Outside the window, Harlem tenement buildings scatter the view, connecting his relationships between Seattle and New York. In a 2000 interview, Jacob Lawrence spoke about this painting:

Yes, that’s my studio here, in Seattle. Not in this apartment, but it’s Seattle. And this is what my studio looked like going up the steps. And my neighbor, our neighbor is an architect. And these buildings back here bring somewhat of the tenements of New York. In reality, this is an empty wall. So I decided to put that back, to use that as a sort of symbol of my thinking of the big city, of New York.1

Lawrence grew up in Harlem after his mother relocated the family there in 1930 when he was thirteen years old. Wanting to encourage her son’s creative expression, his mother enrolled him in an after-school arts program shortly after their arrival in New York. Due to financial hardships, Lawrence was unable to finish his high school education. Yet, he continued to take classes at the Harlem Art Workshop, where he was mentored by the painter Charles Alston.

Lawrence’s upbringing in Harlem was one of the most formative periods of his life, and he frequently referred to those memories and experiences in his work, regardless of his geographical location. He specialized in scenes from Black American life and culture, taking inspiration from the stories of elders within his communities and transferring them into his paintings.

While best known for his paintings of workers from various professions, The Studio offers a glimpse into his work as an artist and teacher as he welcomes the viewer into his own studio. Lawrence referred to his style of painting as “dynamic cubism,” inspired by the colors and shapes of Harlem. The Studio showcases his use of vivid colors, bold linear movements, and mastery of geometric form.

– Kari Karsten, SAM Emerging Museum Professional Curatorial Intern


1 Jackson Frost, Interview with Jacob Lawrence at his home in Seattle, April 2000, transcript, The Phillips Collection Archives, lawrencemigration.phillipscollection.org/sites/default/files/Jacob-Lawrence-2000-interview-transcript.pdf © The Phillips Collection.

Image: The Studio, 1977, Jacob Lawrence, Gouache on paper, 30 x 22 in., Overall h.: 37 3/8 in., Overall w.: 29 in., Partial gift of Gull Industries; John H. and Ann Hauberg; Links, Seattle; and gift by exchange from the Estate of Mark Tobey, 90.27 ©️ Jacob Lawrence.

Object of the Week: Kali (I’m a Mess)

Colorful, riotous, and vibrant are but three words that come to mind when thinking about Dr. Chila Kumari Singh Burman’s neon artworks. Burman’s neon lights first appeared on the Tate Britain’s façade in 2020 for her commission Remembering a Brave New World, which disrupted the neoclassical building’s exterior with a roar of color. Her installation was awarded the 2021 Dezeen Award for Design of the Year.1

Photo: © Tate 2020/Joe Humphrys.

The artist traces her love for neon to childhood visits to Blackpool, a seaside resort known for its annual lights festival. While traditional glass neon lights were not conducive to achieving the shapes and structures that Burman wanted, new developments in the medium allowed her to bend and shape silicon neon lights to create complex and multi-colored sculptures. Some of her signature works include pouncing tigers, images of Hindu deities, uplifting quotes, and her father’s ice cream van. Burman’s Tate Britain installation was unveiled in time for Diwali, the South Asian festival of lights, but also in the midst of the global Black Lives Matter movement and raging COVID-19 pandemic.

With all of this in mind, Burman communicated an uplifting message, but, more importantly, highlighted the significant role and contributions of Black and Asian British artists in the United Kingdom. Burman has also noted that the neon works are an extension of her previous practice, stating, “paradoxically, [the installation’s] concerns are the same themes I explored back in the 80s along with my colleagues in the Black British Arts Movement [that] are still so prevalent today…”

“It’s undeniable that the Tate Britain commission I was awarded was finally a step in the right direction, in acknowledging the significance of my work and practice—as well as the significant contributions of my contemporaries—that have, to be frank, been overlooked for so long,” Burman said. “In doing so, Tate have sought to re-address the biases and hypocrisy often prevalent in both our British art establishments and the wider art sector. This shift, inevitably signifies a slow erosion of the inequalities prevalent in the art world.”

“That being said,” she continued, “I saw my selection for this commission not as a final step in this process of erosion but as a beginning. I was adamant, therefore, that my commission serve as an opportunity to critique the role of the Tate—and by extension all of our British establishments—in much the same way as I have done throughout my practice.” 

SAM acquired one of Burman’s neon works, Kali (I’m a Mess) with funds from the Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Acquisition Fund for Global and Contemporary Art, and additional support from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. Previously perched atop the Tate Britain’s pediment, obscuring the statue of Britannia, the piece will be on view in the upcoming exhibition, Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time, opening January 14 at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.2

Kali (I’m a Mess) brings both a disruptive and inclusive message of liberation and rebellion. Through this artwork, Burman asks: Can Kali fast forward us into a brave new world where we will no longer be in a mess?

Ananya Sikand, PhD Candidate, University of Washington

The author wishes to thank the artist, Dr. Chila Kumari Singh Burman, as well as the artist’s studio team, especially Kemi Sanbe, for kindly providing answers to interview questions. Thanks also to Dr. Natalia Di Pietrantonio, SAM’s Assistant Curator of South Asian Art, for providing the opportunity to write this blog post.


1 https://www.dezeen.com/awards/2021/winners/remembering-a-brave-new-world/#

2 Britannia is the embodiment of Britain in female form as a symbol of British national pride and unity, but also, more troublingly, a long-lasting symbol of colonialism, extraction, and violence.

Image: Kali (I’m a Mess), 2020, Chila Kumari Burman, 6mm 12v silicone LED neon, galvanized weld mesh, 12v switch mode transformers, IP67 plastic box, 137 13/16 x 70 7/8 × 1 3/16 in., Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Acquisition Fund for Global and Contemporary Art, 2021.25 © Artist or Artist’s Estate.

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