Carrie Mae Weems’s recent video The Maddening Crowd has three distinct sections that unfold over 15 minutes and 24 seconds. First, A Story Within A Story, narrated by the artist, explores an African American woman’s contemplation of past, present, and future, and how children process learning about Civil Rights. The Maddening Crowd, from which the video takes its title, uses footage of a 1963 “Hollywood” roundtable discussion in Washington, DC, on August 28, which included actors Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, and Sidney Poitier; director, screenwriter, and producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz; entertainer Harry Belafonte; writer James Baldwin; and moderator David Schoenbrun, discussing the Civil Rights Movement. Footage of this discussion alternates with scenes of mob violence, protestors waving Confederate flags, and news commentary on Civil Rights. The final section, The Holocaust Memorial, documents a performance by the artist at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Germany.
Best known for her work in photography, Weems began creating multiyear photographic series in the late 1970s, exploring family relationships, gender roles, sexuality, racism, class, sexism, and politics. These series, with titles like Ain’t Jokin, Colored People, Slave Coast, and The Louisiana Project, intertwine themes that the artist found in life: history, relationships, cultural identity, and humor. Foremost a storyteller, Weems uses video to explore the African American experience. Her award-winning work has inspired critics to call her “one of the most honored American artists of her generation” and “one of our most effective visual and verbal rhetoricians.”
Born in Portland, Oregon, in 1953, Carrie Mae Weems was the second of seven children born to Carrie and Myrlie Weems. She earned a BFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 1981, followed by an MFA in photography from the University of California, Davis, in 1984. Weems also participated in the graduate program in folklore at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1984 to 1987.
Her work is in the collections of institutions throughout the United States, including the Art Institute of Chicago; Brooklyn Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Weems lives and works in Syracuse, New York.
The Maddening Crowd is presented courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.