Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kitchen Table Series (1990)

The inspiration of my original idea for a blog partially derives from the art of Carrie Mae Weems.[1] A storyteller at heart, her works evoke both emotional and intellectual responses.By combining photos (often grainy, black and white) with narratives she focuses on “aspects of Western culture in need of deeper illumination.”[2] Although I unfortunately never had the pleasure of viewing this series in real live, Kitchen Table Series (1990) is one of those works that struck me from the page of a catalogue and provoked my interests. In the series we see daily live passing by: love, desire, routine, weariness, obligation, sadness and laughter all plays out in twenty photos shot around the same kitchen table. It chronicles the made-up love story of one African-American woman (played by Weems herself), her relationships with her male partner, friends and her child. We observe her sitting at the table, waiting for her lover to call, playing with her daughter and standing confidently watching us back. Through this story Weems addresses not only the lack of representation of black women in Western culture, but also questions about identity and how the domestic space is intricately linked with women in general.

The basic setup of the photos stays the same throughout the series: at the end of the table is always a place for the viewer. This construction is such that we as observers are both placed outside as well as inside the picture. Instead of just looking in on the intimate scenes as innocent bystanders, we are woven into it’s structure, made an essential part of it.[3] Apparently this act is doubled when you view the work in the exhibition space. As Weems explains in a radio-interview[4] she wanted the viewer to have a physical relationship with the work. It is on of the reasons she combined the images with text, so that the viewer is forced to move closer to read and away to perceive. This creates awareness of what is in essence a voyeuristic position. We are not allowed to simply watch, grasp and move on. We are made to feel the tension and desire of our gaze. In order to not only consciously think about our own positions, but also to ask questions about what constitutes identity. Because, as the multiple scenes show, an African-American woman is equal to any other person, the sum of her emotions, encounters and stories. Someone who is ever changing by the experiences she goes through, worthy to be noticed and listened to.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to read the texts, but I am sure it creates an extra layer and ads multiple meanings to this already remarkable work.



[1] The title of this blog is actually a joining of two titles of works by Carrie Mae Weems, namely Kitchen Table Series (1990) and Family Pictures and Stories (1981-1982), which mingled in my memory into Kitchen Stories. I first came across Weems’ work in my research into the use of autobiography by female artists

.[2] http://carriemaeweems.net/bio.html. Quote by the artist.

[3] This position is comparable to Weems’ who is both subject and producer of the work.