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.

Muse/News: Gods & Bods, Remover Art, and Maus Banned

SAM News

“Gods, bods, and power at Seattle Asian Art Museum”: Here’s Crosscut’s Brangien Davis on Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time.

“When I visited the show last weekend, I was thrilled to learn about contemporary artists who were entirely new to me.”

And Seattle Met’s Allecia Vermillion names the “best new restaurants: takeout edition,” including SAM’s new spot, Market Seattle, the second location of the beloved Edmonds restaurant.

“…this Market sits inside Seattle Art Museum, where you can now tear into a fried soft-shell crab in a bag amid ample lights and white-backdrop gallery vibes.”

Local News

Lunar New Year festivities in the region kicked off on Saturday; Seattle Times’ Vonnai Phair has a round-up of all the ways to welcome the Year of the Tiger.

The Locals Going to the Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics in 2022”: Malia Alexander for Seattle Met with all the local names to cheer on.

The Stranger’s Chase Burns catches up on Sundance flicks; Matt McCormick’s short 2002 film the subconscious art of graffiti removal, narrated by Miranda July, is the one that sticks with him.

“The relationship between tagger and remover is an ongoing one. Often, a remover will cover an original tag, only for the tagger to return and tag on top of the remover’s masking. This back-and-forth can continue for years, with the remover coming back and using different shades of paint, creating a layered, more colorful image. This can be accidentally beautiful.”

Inter/National News

If you’re still loving jigsaw puzzles, the at-home hobby that swept the world during the pandemic, Culture Type has a round-up of puzzles featuring the work of celebrated Black artists, including Jacob Lawrence, Derrick Adams, and Faith Ringgold.

Tessa Soloman for ARTnews on a coyote-man sculpture discovered years ago in Tacámbaro, an area in central Mexico, which archeologists are now studying. They believe the sculpture may represent a dynasty that once ruled the area.

Artnet reports: Art Spiegelman has spoken out about the banning of his Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus by a Tennessee school board.

“The district’s decision to censor the book, because it said the material was inappropriate for students, ‘has the breathe of autocracy and fascism about it,’ Spiegelman told CNN.”

And Finally

On Artnet’s podcast: “The Nazis Stole Her Family’s Art. Here’s How She Got It Back.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

A Story for Right Now: Barbara Earl Thomas

“The story that’s happening right now is we are in a struggle to be more human.”

– Barbara Earl Thomas

For more than a year, SAM visitors were mesmerized by the intricate and detailed cut-paper artwork of Seattle-based artist Barbara Earl Thomas in The Geography of Innocence. On the final few days of the installation, SAM sat down with Thomas to discuss how her breathtaking installation came together.

Watch this video to learn about the importance Barbara placed on bringing light into her work, her experiences working with children as models, the story behind the catechism in the installation, and the lessons she hopes her portraits impart.

Although The Geography of Innocence is now closed at SAM, you can see more of Barbara’s work on view in Packaged Black: Derrick Adams and Barbara Earl Thomas at Henry Art Gallery through May 1, 2022.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Object of the Week: The ’20s … The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots

Printed in 1974, decades after his celebrated Migration Series, Jacob Lawrence’s The ‘20s…The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots depicts Black Americans casting their votes in an election.[1] The screenprint was produced on the occasion of the American Bicentennial, part of the Kent Bicentennial Portfolio, for which contributing artists were asked to the respond to the question, What does independence mean to you?

Like much of Lawrence’s work, this print focuses attention on the African American experience. Here, we see Black Americans exercising their right to vote—a right that was systematically suppressed in the Jim Crow South, from which millions migrated to the North and West during the Great Migration.

On Wednesday, January 6, we saw the historic election of Georgia’s first Black senator—and only the second Black senator from a former Confederate state since Reconstruction. This landmark victory, and that of Georgia’s first Jewish senator as well, points to a marked shift in the Georgia electorate and increased voter turnout, especially among Black voters.[2] However, we also witnessed events in the nation’s Capitol whose consequences are still unfolding; events that are rightly eliciting anger, sadness, disappointment, and fear; events that will require much more time to process, unpack, and understand. Turning to Lawrence’s work at this juncture may help reconcile the past with the present moment: Lawrence’s work so often captures the messy complexities and contradictions of America and its history—a history whose ideals of freedom, liberty, and equality are inextricable from realities of subjugation, suppression, and violence.

When describing his Migration Series, Lawrence wrote, “To me, migration means movement. There was conflict and struggle. But out of the struggle came a kind of power and even beauty.” There is no doubt that, as a nation, we remain mired in conflict and struggle, that one century after the scene in The ’20s …The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots, voting—and the right to vote—is as fragile as ever. However, hopefully out of this struggle we can emerge stronger and, as Lawrence believed, find beauty in that strength. First we need to truly reckon with where we are as a country, and take steps to repair what is broken.

– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections & Provenance Associate

Image: The 1920’s…The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots, 1974, Jacob Lawrence, ink on paper, 32 x 24 5/16 in., Gift of the Lorillard Co., N.Y., 75.70 © Jacob Lawrence

[1] Lawrence’s sixty-panel Migration Series (1940-41) chronicles the Great Migration—the decades-long exodus of six million African Americans from the Jim Crow South to the North and West—that lasted from World War I to the 1970s.
[2] Dylan Scott, “’Phenomenal’ Black turnout won the Senate for Democrats in Georgia, Vox, Jan. 6, 2021, https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2021/1/6/22216677/georgia-senate-election-results-black-voters-turnout-warnock-ossoff.

Intersections: Black, Woman, Art!

As programs continue to be offered virtually we are streaming Zoom talks to our Facebook page where you can watch them live. Or you can check back here where we are sharing select events to the blog such as this conversation between multidisciplinary artists Kimisha Turner and Takiyah Ward. Moderated by Priya Frank, Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at SAM, this dynamic discussion ranges from the roles Turner and Ward play as Black artists in our current moment to their recent public art projects including the Black Lives Matter mural created by the Vivid Matters Collective at the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP). Watch along and consider how public art shapes your community. Also, get excited to see Kimisha Turner’s mural, It Ain’t Just a River in Egypt, at SAM when we can reopen—this artwork has just joined our collections!

Washington born and raised, Kimisha Turner is heavily influenced by diverse creative expressions. From murals, to sculpture, to performative work she loves working in varying mediums and processes to convey her conceptual vision. Although her work varies in application, there’s typically a familiar thread found among them. Bright colors and beauty combined with challenging subject matter is often a theme, allowing it to be easily digested by a varied audience. She earned her B.F.A. from Cornish College of the Arts after completing an Associates degree during high school. For over a decade she’s dedicated her focus to innovative ways of creating and interpreting the world as it relates to the human experience. Exploring identity, race, life, grief, and love while drawing on her personal life, her work aims to evoke empathy, perspective and empowerment. The Seattle Art Museum, Northwest African American Museum, Pratt Fine Arts, and Seattle Theater Group are a few of the organizations to collaborate with Kimisha for personal or community based events.

Takiyah Ward, artistically known as T-DUB Customs, is also a Washingtonian. Her Seattle upbringing played a pivotal role in her creative self-expression-from ballet to tap, basketball to custom sneakers–wherever the outlet was most fruitful, Takiyah was ready to learn and explore. During her high school years, Takiyah became extremely interested in clothing and sneaker customization. She began hand painting and airbrushing designs on her own clothes and those of her classmates, morphing her hobby into a successful business. Takiyah eventually left Seattle to study architecture at the New York Institute of Technology, where she honed her skills in technical drawing and design. Takiyah’s artistry reflects the perfect mix of learned skills and self-taught talents, making her the type of artist who shows up ready to perform, no matter the platform! Through T-DUB Customs, Takiyah hopes to be an outlet for all-artistically inclined or not- as it is her belief that our ability to ‘stay creative’ is humanity’s greatest asset.

Muse/News: Suiting up, speaking out, and making art

The Seattle Art Museum wants to acknowledge the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black people killed by police. We share in the grief, anger, and frustration that their friends, families, and communities are feeling, which has spread across the country and the world. Read more of our response to the recent events.

SAM News

Last week, Stay Home with SAM serves up social justice binge watch recommendations and freeze dances with Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Trapsprung.

Local News

UW’s The Daily shares that the Jacob Lawrence Gallery has launched the fourth issue of the art journal, MONDAY. All pieces were commissioned and edited by resident artist Danny Giles and tackle the relationship of art to race and democracy.

Seattle Met’s Allecia Vermillion recommends ordering takeout from several Black-owned Seattle restaurants.

The Seattle Times has ongoing coverage of this weekend’s protests of the killing of George Floyd, which had their team of reporters and photographers in the streets covering it as it happened. Reporters spoke with Andre Taylor, Rev. Dr. Leslie Braxton, Girmay Zahilay, and other protest attendees. They are also asking protestors to share their stories. And columnist Naomi Ishisaka called for police reform.

“Isn’t the midst of a pandemic — especially one that puts extraordinary stress on people experiencing homelessness and poverty, and people of color — exactly when we need more community responsiveness from the police?”

Inter/National News

Watch this short film, commissioned by the Archives of American Art, in which five contemporary artists—Mickalene Thomas, Jacolby Satterwhite, Maren Hassinger, Shaun Leonardo, and Elia Alba—respond to eight questions for Black artists, first posed by Jeff Donaldson in a historic 1967 letter.

Nick Cave’s Soundsuits debuted in 1992 as a response to the beating of Rodney King. In 2016, he recorded an interview with Art21 in which he talked about a new Soundsuit created in honor of Trayvon Martin. Lately he’s been sharing short videos on his Instagram. Read and watch all about his “suits of armor” in this Artnet story. SAM’s collection includes one of Nick Cave’s Soundsuits.

Artist Carrie Mae Weems is launching a new initiative, reports Artnet’s Taylor Defoe, that “draws attention to how the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately hurts African American, Latino, and Native American communities.”

“The death toll in these communities is staggering. This fact affords the nation an unprecedented opportunity to address the impact of social and economic inequality in real time. Denial does not solve a problem.”

And Finally

Dreaming about reading outside together.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of Lessons from the Institute of Empathy at the Seattle Art Museum. © Seattle Art Museum, Photo: Natali Wiseman. 

Object of the Week: Money Tree

In honor of Black History Month, Object of the Week will—throughout the month of February—highlight works by celebrated black artists in the SAM Collection.

Walk through Harlem any given day and you will see David Hammons’ work. The work he does for people who cannot go to SoHo and gallery-hop. The people that he knows. The people he comes from. Bottles stuck on top of bare branches protruding from the ground. From vacant lots and cracks and crevices in the sidewalk. Hammons transforms them. Creates visual music and something to smile about in an environment that doesn’t offer a lot in the way of jokes.  

— Dawoud Bey, “David Hammons: Purely and Artist,” 1982

David Hammons is often described as an elusive figure, an artist who has openly rebuked and skirted the art world, despite his successes within it.[1] A master of materials and the meanings they carry, Hammons deftly reworks objects—often found or discarded—in novel ways, representing Black experience through symbol and metaphor, “physically composed from the material elements of his experience.”[2] As Hammons once put it: “outrageously magical things happen when you mess around with a symbol.”[3] Well, when he messes around with a symbol.

Working outside traditional arts institutions, Hammons imbues his sculptures, installations, photography, and performance with potent signifiers mined from materials grounded in Black urban life. Take, for example, the tree pictured here: pierced with a circular band, the trunk becomes a sculptural object whose form and tongue-in-cheek title, Money Tree, obliquely reference a basketball hoop. Despite the endless wealth to which the title alludes, the rather barren scene warrants a more nuanced interpretation.

For Hammons, basketball—a sport dominated by Black athletes—is not a guarantee of economic success, but rather acts as both a “foil and object of devotion” in Black communities.[4] Though speaking specifically to a 1983 piece titled Higher Goals (pictured below), a sculptural work that also mobilizes basketball as metaphor, Hammons’ own words can provide some insight:

It’s an anti-basketball sculpture. Basketball has become a problem in the black community because kids aren’t getting an education. They’re pawns in someone else’s game…. It means you should have higher goals in life than basketball.[5]

Treated with equal parts empathy and irony, Money Tree acknowledges the reality that, for many Black communities, basketball is regarded as an opportunity to excel within a society whose systems unfairly work against people of color. In a country that deeply reveres professional sports and its athletes, basketball is thus seen as an avenue to success. Yet, Money Tree also undercuts this very notion, simultaneously functioning as a cautionary tale and pointed commentary on race and class in America.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

[1] In the essay “Wreaking Havoc on the Signified: David Hammons,” Coco Fusco articulates: “No account of Hammons’ art is entirely devoid of references to his streetwise, resolutely anti-elitist persona. He has become infamous for his acerbic appraisals of high art, and his willed cultivation of a split between a black interpretative community to which he directs his messages, and a now admiring (once indifferent) white art world he loves to snub, tease and confuse.” Coco Fusco, “Wreaking Havoc on the Signified: David Hammons,” Frieze, May 7, 1995, https://frieze.com/article/wreaking-havoc-signified.
[2] Kellie Jones, “The Structure of Myth and the Potency of Magic,” in David Hammons: Rousing the Rubble (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), 16.
[3] Holland Cotter, “David Hammons Is Still Messing With What Art Means,” The New York Times, March 24, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/25/arts/design/david-hammons-is-still-messing-with-what-art-means.html.
[4] Franklin Sirmans, “Searching for Mr. Hammons,” in David Hammons: Selected Works (New York: Zwirner & Wirth, 2006), np.
[5] David Hammons quoted by Douglas C. McGill, “Hammons’ Visual Music,” in The New York Times, July 18, 1986, section 3, p. 15. Image: Higher Goals, 1983, fifty-five foot tall basketball poles, 121st Street and Frederick Douglas Boulevard, Harlem.
Image: Money Tree, 1992, David Hammons, gelatin silver photograph, 16 1/2 x 11 in., Gift of Greg Kucera and Larry Yocom, 97.77, © David Hammons. Higher Goals, 1983, David Hammons, 55′ tall basketball poles, 121st Street and Frederick Douglas Boulevard, Harlem. Photo: Dawoud Bey. © David Hammons

My Favorite Things: Sandra Jackson-Dumont on Mickalene Thomas’ “Hair Portrait #20”

As one of the most beloved collection works currently hanging at Seattle Art Museum, we weren’t surprised when SAM’s former Deputy Director of Education and Public Programs and current Chairman of Education at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sandra Jackson-Dumont, chose Mickalene Thomas’ Hair Portrait #20 to be the subject of her My Favorite Things video.

When i walk in here I see reflections of people who look like me, but i also see a major contribution to the art-historical cannon.

Noting the exclusion of black women from portraiture in western art, Thomas turns her subject into a dazzling, glamorous icon. The work packs a walloping visual punch, spanning 300 inches wide with each face tiled in a different hue, moving from light to dark, from visibility to near invisibility, the Warholian repetition of a single image is given entirely new meaning.

Also, we really miss Sandra.

We love Sandra Jackson-Dumont!

Meet Multidimensional Artist & Prizewinner Brenna Youngblood

We’re honored to share that the 2015 Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize Winner is Los Angeles-based visual artist, Brenna Youngblood, who incorporates symbols and elements—with strong but not-so-obvious references to everyday life—into her sculptures and atmospheric paintings. The Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize is awarded bi-annually to an early career black artist—an individual who has been producing mature work for less than 10 years.

Youngblood is a prolific artist with a rigorous studio practice where she experiments deeply with aspects of formalism, materials, and processes. Rooted in photomontage, she builds the surfaces of many paintings at once while contemplating the relationships between each object in formation. Mixed with humor, satire, and pure creative freedom, she embraces her intuition fully as she makes decisions about composition, line, form, and content. Abstract with a nod to conceptualism, figuration, and the real, Youngblood makes painterly work that is visually grounded by architectural, social, and political cues. She often refers to many of these beautifully messaged works as landscapes.

Her solo exhibition abstracted realities, which was guest curated by Sandra Jackson-Dumont, SAM’s former Kayla Skinner Deputy Director of Education and Public Programs and Adjunct Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, (now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) is on view now through April 17, 2016.

Watch the artist discuss how her pieces explore the iconography of public and private experiences, as well as issues surrounding identity, ethics, and representation. And be sure to visit abstracted realities next time you’re at SAM!

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