Carrie Mae Weems is an internationally recognized visual artist, working in photography and video. She studied in California and New York. But she was born and raised in Portland. And she’s returned, for the Portland Art Museum’s retrospective of her work. The exhibit, which opens Saturday, looks back on three decades of her work.
Weems was a guest on OPB’s Think Out Loud Friday. Host David Miller asked her what it is like to have a retrospective of her work in the place where she grew up.
Carrie Mae Weems: It’s humbling. It’s deeply humbling. It’s wonderful to be here in Portland and to have the work for my family to see. They’re reflected in the photographs of course. And to pay homage to them in a way.
I think of this show as a way to pay homage to my family, of thanking them for years of support, of standing behind me all the way and never once stepping in front of me, blocking my path. So it’s wonderful to be back, it’s wonderful to be at the Portland Art Museum. I was telling somebody that as a 15/16 year old I spent a lot of time demonstrating in front of that museum.
David Miller: Demonstrating for what?
CMW: Demonstrating against the Vietnam War, many of them happened right there down the street from Portland State, and I was a part of that. A lot of my early history, and the way I was formed and shaped, happened in front of that museum.
Weems told Miller she knew early on that she wanted to be an artist of some kind. Then a boyfriend gave her a camera. He also gave her a book, the Black Photographers Annual, that set her on her path.
CMW: I opened it, and I thought this is what I’m going to do. It was just absolutely immediate.
DM: What did you see that made you say that.
CMW: For the first time I saw black people portrayed in a way that was beyond the stereotype. They were portrayed in all of their humanness. Fabulous photographers. Had never seen anything like it in newspapers or other photographic books. So having that book, having that sense of what was possible, was something that immediately excited me.
That’s artist Carrie Mae Weems speaking with Think Out Loud host David Miller. Her exhibit at the Portland Art Museum opens this weekend, and runs through the middle of May. You can hear the entire interview on the rebroadcast of Think Out Loud at 8 p.m. Friday, find it online at opb.org/thinkoutloud.