The Artist

Weems for header

Carrie Mae Weems will be speaking at our Alumni Weekend: Art + Cocktails event Friday, June 9th. More info here.

Photographs may have made her name, but the art of Carrie Mae Weems, MFA ’84 is as complex and multifaceted as the artist herself. Weems is best known for capturing profound moments in the lives of African-Americans and turning the lens on herself to speak volumes about us all. Yet her body of artistic work also threads into community activism to stop gun violence and advocacy programs for youth to get involved in the creative arts.

Venturing into another form of expression, Weems notes about her latest project, Grace Notes—“it’s my first major performance piece and it allows for working in a very rich and full way with other artists: with composers, with musicians, dancers, writers, poets, choreographers. It’s very exciting.” And with dates set for the Kennedy Center among other venues, Weems’ vision of the world and what needs to be said about our lives will reach new heights.

On choosing UC San Diego: “Well, frankly, UCSD chose me. And it was really quite wonderful. I had just graduated from Cal Arts and moved into a studio. I was quietly working, trying to figure out my way forward when one afternoon, I received a knock on my door and it was professor Ulysses Jenkins asking me, ‘Have you ever thought about graduate school?’ I said, ‘Graduate school? I just finished school.’ I was taken aback! But I came to the school, I met a whole group of amazing people, and absolutely, in every way, my experience at UCSD changed my life. It gave me a new perspective, a new understanding of possibilities with education, what the structure of education is, and how to move through that structure. And of course, at that moment, the people that were teaching at the university, particularly in the arts, were just some of the most important people working in contemporary art. From Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison, to David and Eleanor Anson, Fred Lonidier, Phil Steinmich, Allan Kaprow—I had an amazing opportunity to work with them.”

On the UC San Diego education:
“It’s where one asks the tougher questions, the difficult questions about a practice, and where one learns how to engage those questions—not necessarily how to answer them but how to engage them. Questions that are deeply important to the nature and process of your work, how to push through them so you can actually have a life, so you can build and design this life vis-à-vis the practice you’re engaged in. So without UCSD—without that mentorship, that guidance, that fellowship, without having some of my peers who remain my peers and colleagues—I wouldn’t be the artist that I am today. UCSD was very important in really shaping and defining who I would become, as a person and an artist.”

On her first exhibition of Family Pictures and Stories, at the Multicultural Gallery on campus: “One of the important things about my education at UCSD was that my instructors were so deeply involved as forerunners in contemporary artistic practices—so ideas about using image and text, using language as the source and foundation of your creative practice were important. That had not really been stressed to me before. So the idea of what an artwork was, what it could be, expanded for me and allowed me to work in a new way.”