Considered to be one of the artist’s most important bodies of work, Carrie Mae Weems’ Kitchen Table Series interweaves themes of race, class, gender, friendship, love, loss, power, and motherhood. The intimate and often political content of this narrative series finds common ground around the kitchen table, transcending the separation of domestic and civic space. First exhibited in 1990, the Kitchen Table Series set the stage for future contemporary artists to explore issues of identity.
The theatricality of these images—the dramatic lighting of the overhead lamp, the symbolic assortment of objects in each frame, the expressive poses, and the clear progression of the storyline—signals that each image is in fact meticulously crafted rather than candid. This interplay between sincerity and staging is also visible in the accompanying text, which often fuses the author’s voice with popular songs like Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia,” or “I Loves You Porgy” from the opera Porgy and Bess. In allowing these songs to speak through her protagonist, Weems crafts a character that is both singular and plural—an individual mediated by culture. Further complicating her heroine by exploring her many different social roles as a lover, mother, activist, academic, woman, friend, mentor, and African American, Weems prompts us to consider our own intersecting social roles as well as the impact of mainstream media on how we perform them.
Though Weems is best known for her photography, she also works with text, fabric, audio, digital images, video, and installation. She is the recipient of a prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Grant and a Ford Fellowship, as well as numerous residencies and visiting professorships. She exhibits globally, most notably at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Tate Museum in London, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.