This iteration of Viewpoints features a photographic triptych by Carrie Mae Weems (U.S., born 1953) that was sourced from historic ethnographic photographs of an enslaved woman named Drana. Weems manipulated her source images, which were originally used as mechanisms of racial classification and subjugation, shifting the scale, color, and formatting to create an homage that addresses the dehumanizing history carried in the subject’s body and her image.
The nineteenth-century daguerreotypes that Weems used as source material were taken by Joseph Zealy at the request of Louis Agassiz, a Harvard University professor of Swiss origin, whose research sought to prove the racist belief—now completely discredited by science—that humans were not one species, but several and therefore biologically divisible into a hierarchy. To support his ideas, Aggasiz collected images of enslaved people in South Carolina, not far from the Sea Islands.
This untitled triptych is part of Weem’s Sea Islands series, which explores the African heritage of the Gullah community, who reside along the South Carolina and Georgia coast. By including these historical images of Drana in a series about a contemporary culture, Weems both asserts the continuing importance of the past, and opens history for reconsideration and rectification in the present.
Weems (b. 1953) is among the most celebrated US artists of her generation. Her work explores questions related to structures of power, class, gender, and social relationships, with a particular focus on the lived experience of African Americans. Recipient of numerous accolades nationally and internationally, Weem’s received the MacArthur Genius Grant in 2013. Her work is in museum collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, NY and the Tate Modern, London.
As part of Viewpoints, accompanying commentary is provided by University of Washington faculty, including Megan Ming Francis, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science; Bettina Judd, Assistant Professor, Department of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies; and Stuart Lingo, Associate Professor and Chair, Division of Art History.