Beyond the Canvas
Carrie Mae Weems' The Kitchen Table Series (1990)
Updated: Feb 14, 2022
"I think that most work that’s made by black artists is considered to be about blackness. [Laughs.] Unlike work that’s made by white artists, which is assumed to be universal at its core." - Carrie Mae Weems
How many assumptions do we make every time we look at a piece of art? How much of of our own experience do we project? And does the artwork then become more about what we want it or need it to be? Weems' statement is eye-opening and it made me reflect about my way of approaching art made by black artists.
The Kitchen Table Series is a fundamentally universal body of work in that it tells the story of all women, not just black women. Weems takes us on an exploration of the female experience seen through the domestic space, where women have belonged, ruled and suffered for thousands of years. As I was scrolling through these beautiful black & white images, I was struck by the intensity of each of these moments; the things that are being said and, perhaps more poignantly, the ones that are left unsaid. Weems calls it a war and in each snapshot she tells a story of stereotypes, social constructs, relationship and family dynamics with the burden of their expectations, the everyday duties and struggles. Weems breaks down those domestic walls and allows us to take a peek into her own investigations inside these spaces. What we see is a picture that most women may recognise as painfully familiar, as if looking in a mirror.
Thirty years on, these seminal staged snapshots are still current, and I suspect they will be 30, 60, 90 years from now. They are not just universal, but also of historical significance as and they speak to every woman about female representation, the reality of her own life and the role she occupies at home, as well as in society.
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All photos © Carrie Mae Weems.