Carrie Mae Weems, one of the most influential American artists of our time, is keenly aware of how she occupies space. Her presence in certain spaces, whether it’s as a mother or lover in her Kitchen Table Seriesor contemplating the edifices of power in Roaming, tells a compelling narrative of occupying space in society. In her recent performance of Past Tense at Grace Farms, she skillfully creates space for us to consider race, injustice, violence, and inequality. Through her powerful voice, accompanied by an extraordinary group of artists, Weems asks us to consider society’s relentless violence and injustices.
Through words, text, and images, Weems takes us through our violent past and brings us to the precipice of our possible extinction.Her inquires as to whether we can consider the value of a life and to stop the violence seems daunting and impossible. But by the end of Past Tense, Weems leaves space for hope – that we can change and consider the impossible. Perhaps because Weems herself remains hopeful.
“But as much as I’m engaged with it, with violence, I remain ever hopeful that change is possible and necessary, and that we will get there. I believe that strongly, and representing that matters to me: a sense of aspiration, a sense of good will, a sense of hope, a sense of this idea that one has the right, that we have the right to be as we are,” said Carrie Mae Weemsin a recent New York Times article.
Weems’ hopeful aspirations – even as she confronts disturbing and dark themes in our society – aligns with Grace Farms’ work in the areas of human and wildlife trafficking. Carrie’s “decades-long meditations on recurrent subjects, including violence, systems and consequences of power, and sexism resonate with the Foundation’s core initiatives,” said Grace Farms Foundation Chair & President Sharon Prince. “Her interdisciplinary work will add a new perspective in our mission to create more grace and peace in the world.”
Grace Farms was designed as a new kind of pubic space to advance good in the world. It is open six days per week and is free to the general public. Since its opening in October 2015, Grace Farms has built a reputation as a welcoming place. It invites individuals from diverse backgrounds to engage in conversations around the Foundation’s five initiatives, to participate in community events, and to enjoy Grace Farms’ nature preserves.
In Prince’s recent President’s Perspective,she discusses the importance of hopeful spaces and why they matter. “In looking back over last year’s milestones, I am reminded how powerful hopeful spaces can be – how they can communicate and how they can advance good in the world,”she said. The award-winning SANAA-designed River building and 80 acres of open landscape was meant to break down barriers between people and encourage meaningful conversations that can inspire change.
“Hopeful spaces alone can’t drive change. You need people who can envision what can be and vigorously work to accomplish it,” Princesaid. Grace Farms has brought together visionaries to head the Foundation’s five initiativesof nature, arts, justice, community, and faith.“The very landscape and architecture of Grace Farms is designed to encourage collaboration, or convenings, that bring together many minds,” said Grace Farms’ Arts Initiative Curator Pamela Ruggio.
Carrie Mae Weems’ impressive career spans over 30 years. She is an accomplished multi-media artist and often collaborates with other disciplines, including poets, dancers, singers, filmmakers, and architects. She has received numerous awards, grants, and fellowships, including the prestigious Prix de Roma, The National Endowment of the Arts, The Alpert, The Anonymous was a Woman, and The Tiffany Awards. In 2013, Weems received the MacArthur “Genius” grant as well as the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Her work is in public and private collections around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York; The Museum of Fine Arts, in Houston; and The Tate Modern, in London.
Weems’ Past Tense performance recounts the classic Greek tragedy “Antigone.” The play, written more than 2,500 years ago, still holds relevance today. Antigone goes against the wishes of King Creon and honorably buries her brother, a huge act of defiance. As a result, the king condemns Antigone to death. Weems, throughout her performance, joined by her own Greek chorus, helps tell the story of injustice and how it relates to modern times. Antigone felt King Creon was unjust and that she had a moral obligation to stand up to him. Similarly, Weems questions our moral obligation to stand up against our current injustices – the relentless violence against innocent people in America, particularly young black men.
Weems will continue her work at Grace Farmsin an extended residency this year.
“We live in a world where there must be a universal commitment to act against destructive forces that encourage division, hate, and slavery,” said Prince. “Once you know, you cannot un-know it.”