SEATTLE – The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) presents Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue (November 17, 2022 through January 22, 2023), showcasing over 140 works by two of photography’s most important artists working today. Both born in 1953, Bey and Weems explore ideas grounded in refracted black experiences through issues of gender, class and systems of power. In Dialogue presents a series of thematic explorations of their distinct but overlapping concerns and approaches. This is the first time their celebrated work – the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions – has been shown together to explore their fiery engagement with each other over the years.
The Seattle Art Museum is the third leg of the exhibition’s US tour, hosted by the Grand Rapids Art Museum and curated by Ron Platt. The Seattle iteration is curated by Catharina Manchanda, Jon and Mary Shirley Curators of Modern and Contemporary Art. “The work of these two artists has never been more relevant, combining a tender embrace and celebration of black people with a lucid awareness of the power imbalances they have been subjected to since the days of slavery,” says Manchanda. “We are thrilled to invite everyone into their conversations about art, culture and history throughout their careers.”
Alongside the exhibition, the museum will showcase dynamic programs and engagement opportunities. A free community opening will take place on December 1 during the first Thursday when the museum is free for all, all day. And the #SAMPhotoClub social media initiative invites people to share photographs based on themes inspired by the exhibition for the opportunity to be featured on SAM digital channels.
Explore the exhibition
Bey and Weems first met in 1976, when they were both 23. Bey was teaching a photography class at the Studio Museum in Harlem and Weems was a student. The two bonded and in the decades that followed continued to connect over common artistic concerns, including their larger goal of using photography to create authentic images of Black Americans that would deepen understanding within the broader culture of the complexity and beauty of black lives and experiences. .
The artistic careers of Bey and Weems overlap in many ways. They are joined by their passion for a complex understanding of the history of black life within the hierarchies of existing power structures. They both create visually and technically stunning photographs using different camera formats and processes. Finally, the two artists work in thematic series which, seen together, have a particular weight.
In addition to photography, the exhibition includes a video work by each artist. In Dialogue also features a visual timeline of their lives, careers and historical events, to offer visitors the opportunity to delve deeper into the references explored in their work. -30-
The first section presents scenes of urban life and domestic scenes with passers-by or family as subjects. Bey’s penetrating portraits show a tenderness and close rapport with his subjects; this section also includes Self and Shadow (1980), an evocative image of his shadow cast in the street. Weems’ works reflect a poignant understanding of the body’s power to communicate psychological depth when staged in space. This section presents Weems’s first self-portrait (1975), in which the artist stands with his back to the camera in a domestic space, appearing to be standing comfortably. Also featured in this section are intimate family scenes and portraits of people he met during his travels.
This section traces the evolution of the artists in the late 1980s and 1990s. Bey deepens his engagement with his subjects, especially teenagers, working with them to create evocative portraits that reflect mutual trust. This period also saw Weems’ increasing use of narrative frameworks, including her groundbreaking series The Kitchen Table (1990), a fictional photographic essay featuring the artist among subjects exploring women’s self-perception.
Resurrecting Black Stories
This section explores the artists’ mutual interest in black history in America. Bey’s Night Coming Tenderly, Black series (2017) documents sites believed to be on the Underground Railroad, a network helping slaves to freedom in the 19th century. These large-scale works show Bey working in a more abstract and poetic mode, placing the viewer viscerally in the perspective of someone navigating the landscape. Shades of velvety black and gray create a subtle interplay of light and dark inspired by 20th century photographers including Roy DeCarava. Meanwhile, Weems’ Sea Islands series (1991-92) features island locations off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina that are home to Gullah communities and culture, including ruins, markers and artifacts, reflecting his interest in the importance of the oral. stories and mythologies. In Weems’ From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried series (1995-96), the artist enlarged and edited images from 1850 in which enslaved Africans were presented as anthropological subjects rather than humans; Weems questions the racist history and purpose of these images. Memorial and Requiem
Also on display are works that express the importance of commemoration in black culture. Bey’s Birmingham Project (2019) features portraits of present-day Birmingham-area children and teenagers who are the same age as six black youths killed in the Alabama city in 1963, including the four girls killed in the bombing of the Baptist Church on 16th Street; these are placed in diptychs with adults from the Birmingham area who are of the potential age of today’s youth. Weems’ Constructing History series (2008) focuses on well-known images of 20th century tragedies such as the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy, reenacting them with students and community members in ‘Atlanta.
Revelations in the landscape
In Dialogue also looks at the impact of place on our lives. Bey revisited the site of his early work with Harlem Redux (2014-16), moving away from close-up portraits to focus on the relentless gentrification of the urban landscape and the disappearance of black culture, photographed in color. In Weems’ surprisingly restrained and formally constructed series Roaming (2006), she stages her own body in architectural spaces across Rome, Italy – a reminder of the history of power, conquest and domination of the city, from ancient and imperial Rome to the fascist government of Mussolini in the early 20th century.
Schedules & tickets
- Museum opening hours
- Closed Monday & Tuesday
- Wednesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Holiday schedules on the site
- Adult: $29.99 in advance / $32.99 the day of
- Senior (65+), Military (with ID): $27.99 in advance / $30.99 on day of
- Student (with ID), Teen (15-18): $19.99 upfront / $22.99 on day of
- Children (14 and under): FREE
- SAM Members: FREE
- First Thursdays: Free for all
- First Fridays: Free general admission for seniors (65+)
Details are subject to change. For the most up-to-date information on planning a visit, visit seattleartmuseum.org.
A 176-page illustrated catalog with 200 color and black-and-white illustrations published with DelMonico Books and distributed by Distributed Art Publishers, Inc. will be available for purchase from SAM Shop ($50). Also titled Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue (ISBN: 978-1636810454), the catalog includes scholarly essays by Grand Rapids Art Museum Chief Curator Ron Platt and Deputy Director of the National Museum of History and Culture Afro-American Kinshasa Holman Conwill, as well as reflections from the two artists.
ORGANIZATION AND SUPPORT FOR THE EXHIBITION
Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue is organized by the Grand Rapids Art Museum, with the generous support of MillerKnoll. Additional support is provided by the Wege Foundation, Agnes Gund, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Eenhoorn, LLC.
Supporting Sponsor Perkins Coie LLP
About the Seattle Museum of Art
As the Pacific Northwest’s leading visual arts institution, SAM leverages its global collections, powerful exhibitions, and vibrant programs to provide unique educational resources to benefit the Seattle area, Northwest of the Pacific and beyond. SAM was founded in 1933 with a focus on Asian art. By the late 1980s, the museum had outgrown its original home, and in 1991 a new 155,000 square foot downtown building, designed by Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates, opened. to the public. The 1933 building was renovated and rededicated as an Asian Art Museum in 1994, and it reopened on February 8, 2020, after extensive renovation and expansion. SAM’s desire to further serve its community came to fruition in 2007 with the opening of two stunning new facilities: the nine-acre Olympic Sculpture Park (designed by Weiss/Manfredi Architects) – a “museum without walls”, free and open to all – and Allied Works architecture has designed a 118,000 square foot extension to its main downtown location, including 232,000 square feet of additional constructed space for future expansion. The Olympic Sculpture Park and downtown SAM expansion celebrated their tenth anniversary in 2017.
From a strong base of Asian art to notable collections of African and Oceanic art, Northwest Coast Native American art, European and American art, and modern and contemporary art, the strength of the collection of approximately 25,000 SAM objects lies in its diversity of media, cultures, and time periods.