Carrie Mae Weems

Carrie Mae Weems was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1953. Weems earned a BFA from the California Institute of the Arts, Valencia (1981), and an MFA from the University of California, San Diego (1984), continuing her studies in the Graduate Program in Folklore at the University of California, Berkeley (1984–87). With the pitch and timbre of an accomplished storyteller, 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 of more than a century.

She has received honorary degrees from Colgate University (2007) and California College of the Arts (2001). Awards include the MacArthur Fellowship (2013); Anonymous Was a Woman Award (2007); Skowhegan Medal for Photography (2007); Rome Prize Fellowship (2006); and the Pollack-Krasner Foundation Grant in Photography (2002); among others. Weems’s work has appeared in major exhibitions at Savannah College of Art and Design (2008); W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University (2007); Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown (2000); and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1998); among others. Carrie Mae Weems lives and works in Syracuse, New York.

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Teaching with Contemporary Art

Artist as Archivist

When most of my students come to me, their understanding of art has been formed to fit a homogenized construct of how art manifests in the world. Often, they have yet to learn that art could look like something other than a painting on a traditional canvas or a sculpture carved in marble. My job […]

Conversation Starter

When can family cause a spark?

Whether it be the family that raised them or they created later on, family matters seep into artwork.

Teaching with Contemporary Art

Stuck at Home

During the long, odd, Zoom-filled first days of the pandemic’s arrival in Seattle, I thought about how the traditional art classroom is not always the most ideal place for making art, especially contemporary art. Students usually come to the art room and find traditional art-making tools and materials: paints, brushes, pencils, pens, paper, canvas, and […]

Conversation Starter

What details make a home?

Like all people, artists grapple with the definition and memory of home.


On Photography

Speaking with Art21 founder Susan Sollins in New York City in August 2008, Carrie Mae Weems meditates on the photographers who influenced her work and how she constructs an image.

Teaching with Contemporary Art

Finding Room in the Classroom for Every Voice

Educator-in-Residence Jeannine Bardo introduces lessons from her third-grade unit on “Home,” in which students’ research is centered on facets of their community: themselves, their family, and their friends.

Teaching with Contemporary Art

Below the Surface: Creating Hope through Portraiture

Educator-in-Residence Joseph Iacona’s students embark on a project of self-discovery, inspiring them to feel hopeful about themselves and their future while protecting their identities.

Teaching with Contemporary Art

Radical Art in a Conservative School

Art21 Educator Dennis Greenwell shares how a project on empathy helped his students better understand one another and our current political landscape.

Teaching with Contemporary Art

Keep it Real, Keep it Relevant

Educator-in-Residence Joseph Iacona shares the impact socially engaged artists have in classrooms with trauma-impacted students.

Deep Focus

Polyculturalist Visions, New Frameworks of Representation: Multiculturalism and the American Culture Wars

Nettrice Gaskins examines the ongoing crisis of representation in cultural institutions, ultimately arriving at what she sees as a “polyculturalist” future for art, in which it moves away from dialectical identity politics to a sphere of fluid identities.


Dance, Bodies, and Aging

On the eve of the unveiling of the artist’s 2008 project, Constructing History: A Requiem to Mark the Moment, at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, Carrie Mae Weems discusses her background in dance, the role of other women’s bodies in her work, and the ongoing performative thread in her photographs and films.