On view through September 3 at the Barbican Art Gallery in London, Carrie Mae Weems: Reflections for Now is a compelling tribute to an artist who has boldly confronted historical monuments while creating a monument of her own through a powerful and thought-provoking body of work.
Curated by Raúl Muñoz de la Vega and Florence Ostende, the exhibition layout with spacious displays and minimal interpretation, honors the elegance and poise of Weems’s art while underlining the significance of reflecting on the politics of display—a topic the artist herself consistently urges her audience to engage with.
The retrospective spans five decades of Weems’s work, beginning with the recent series “Painting the Town” (2021). These large-scale photographs depict boarded-up buildings in Portland, Oregon, where the messages of Black Lives Matter protesters were covered up after George Floyd’s murder. Weems ingeniously transforms these images into abstract paintings, infusing her clear-sighted political commentary and personal touches into the portrayal of contemporary events.
The iconic works from the 1990s, such as the “Kitchen Table Series,” showcase Weems’s formal perfection. The series captures the complexities of a turbulent relationship between a couple, using images and text to narrate various intimate moments shared at the kitchen table. Weems’s control over her camera allows her to draw connections with the history of photography, from colonial ethnographic imagery to modern-day protest snapshots.
Throughout the exhibition, Weems’s works continually overlap, resonating with one another, revealing the consistency of her artistic vision. In her series “Museums” (2006–ongoing), Weems photographs herself in front of renowned museums worldwide, raising awareness of the imperial origins of Western museums and their cultural, historical, and political implications.
The exhibition also features Weems’ “Roaming” series (2006). The artist is portrayed in standing boldly before historical architectural sites in Rome, symbolizing Italy’s imperial history. In 2014, Weems’ “Roaming” was featured at the Guggenheim, marking her first significant show at a New York Museum and making her the first African-American woman to receive a retrospective there.
Featured Image: Carrie Mae Weems, Reflections for Now installation view. Source: Barbican Art Gallery