Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.)

Carrie Mae Weems. Queen B

11 Mar - 27 Aug 2023

Carrie Mae Weems, Anointed, 2017 © Photo: Carrie Mae Weems
Courtesy: Carrie Mae Weems; Jack Shainman Gallery, New York; Galerie Barbara Thumm, Berlin
n.b.k. Billboard
Located at the intersection Friedrichstraße / Torstraße

Curator: Lidiya Anastasova

Since the 1980s, Carrie Mae Weems has consistently explored issues of gender, race, and class, as well as the asymmetry of sociopolitical power relations and their consequences, while constantly questioning the status quo. Her artistic practice spans photography, video, site-specific installations, texts, performances, and activist campaigns. Weems often uses visual quotations from historical, scientific, museum, and pop cultural contexts as an act of reappropriation and empowerment concerning the politics of representation in general, and of Black (hi-)stories and lived experiences in particular.

For the n.b.k. Billboard series, Weems adapted the photograph Queen B, which is part of an extensive series of images devoted to the R&B icon and actor Mary J. Blige. Weems produced the series in 2017. In context of the n.b.k. program, this work will be represented for the first time in the urban space. Here, it undergoes a temporal and spatial recontextualization to take on further narrative strands, for instance, with regard to current events surrounding the British monarchy.

Weems staged the opulent set for Queen B by recalling the pictorial structure and codes of baroque still-life painting – a reference to the “golden age” of Western European art and the economic growth of colonial powers based on exploitation. The abundant arrangement of flowers, fruits, crystal glass, and silver was enriched by the artist with artifacts such as a Bambara Tyi Wara headdress from Mali and an ebony figurine from Nigeria, as well as objects by contemporary artists such as Kehinde Wiley, suggesting wider narrative threads around power and beauty. With the crown motif, Weems also references Jean-Michel Basquiat, who used it in his art as a recurring symbol associated with expressions of Black culture.

Multidimensional perspectives that do justice to the complexity of humanity are central to Weems’ oeuvre. She reflects on representations of power and examines the objectifying gaze inscribed in the history of the medium of photography. In her meticulously composed works, Weems deliberately seeks to destabilize and reverse (historical) power relations.

The work Queen B follows on from Weems’ earlier Slow Fade to Black – the 2010 series pays homage to Black musicians and cultural figures of the 20th century, including Dinah Washington, Nina Simone, Leontyne Price, Mahalia Jackson, Shirley Bassey, Ella Fitzgerald, Abbey Lincoln, Eartha Kitt, and Koko Taylor.

Carrie Mae Weems (*1953 in Portland/Oregon, lives in Syracuse/New York) is the recipient of numerous awards, most recently the Bernd and Hilla Becher Prize and the Harlem Stage Transformative Artist Award (both 2022), the Artes Mundi 9 Biennial Prize, Cardiff (2020), and the Royal Photographic Society Honorary Fellowship (2019). Solo and group exhibitions include at Barbican Art Centre, London (2023); Getty Center, Los Angeles (2023); Kunstmuseum Basel (2023); KBr Fundación Mapfre, Fundación Foto Colectania, MACBA, Barcelona (2022); Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart (2022); Park Avenue Armory, New York (2021); The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2014); Guggenheim Museum, New York (2014); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012). Carrie Mae Weems is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery, New York; Galerie Barbara Thumm, Berlin; Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.