Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ghosts of the Past and Present

Carrie Mae Weem's works could not find a more appropriate place to be displayed than the George and Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art on Carondelet during Prospect.3. Walking through the porch of the antebellum house transformed in a museum is a great introduction to the exhibition which includes photographs from the Louisiana Project (2003).
Twelve pictures from the above series are found on the first floor, most featuring the artist seen from behind, leading the viewer on a 19th Century plantation's visit. The views are quiet and empty but soon get filled with the ghosts of the past, revived by the artist's presence, staged slightly off center, leaving room for the viewer to look at the scenes with her eyes, share her emotions and ultimately develop empathy. Carrie Mae West is reflecting on her roots, her people's history and slavery in this invitation to a trip down memory lane.
When watching Meaning and Landscape, 2003, a DVD projected on a television screen, one cannot avoid thinking of Kara Walker's work which treats similar themes set in Southern backgrounds. They both are great storytellers, but Carrie Mae West approach stays subtle, with innuendos and suggestions, as opposed to the raw violence and sexuality depicted in Walker's cut-paper silhouettes. Weems's chooses grayish images, blurred by a fence in the background, delivered at a slow pace, for this tale about race, gender and status.
Going back in time, on the second floor, Lincoln, Lonnie and Me-A Story in 5 Parts (2012) is a historical review of her ongoing themes. Short clips stage different characters including the artist, ghostly figures disappearing like magic on the stage defined by virtual bright red theater curtains. The Pepper's Ghost illusion, an old technique born in the 16th Century is used for the 18 minutes video which includes texts and music mixed for the soundtrack. The work in which the artists rekindles memories in a grey world of shadows was commissioned for the show Feminist And... which took place at the Mattress Factory,

Resurrecting the ghosts of the past to haunt our present...

photographs by the author


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