Artist Carrie Mae Weems employs the power of storytelling and unfolding narratives in her photographs and films. This image from her 2008 Constructing History series pays homage to the enlivened spirit, struggles and triumphs of humanity from 1968 to the present.1 The female subject of this image, The Beginning of Afro-Chic, embodies the strength and beauty of the black female body, which occupies a prominent place in Weems’ art.2 The figure stands on a lit catwalk with a large Afro hairstyle, her back to the viewer as the white flowing fabrics of her garment trail behind her. She faces an open curtain through which an image of Black Panther Party members in front of a partially obstructed banner reading “Hutton Memorial” is projected. The woman stands tall and focused, yet she remains still and contemplative amidst a scene that marks a moment of sadness. The banner references Bobby Hutton’s untimely death in a police shootout in Oakland, California, two years after being the first recruit to the Black Panther Party at 16 years old. The Beginning of Afro-Chic reminds the viewer of the power and significance of history while also informing and illuminating what the future holds.
1Constructing History: A Requiem to Mark the Moment was produced during Weems’ Distinguished Visiting Faculty position at the Savannah College of Art and Design, shown in conjunction with the National Black Arts Festival at the ACA Gallery of SCAD in Atlanta in 2008.
2Deborah Willis, Ph.D., “Carrie Mae Weems: Power to the People!” Carrie Mae Weems, Constructing History: A Requiem to Mark the Moment (exhibition catalog edited by Laurie Ann Farrell). Savannah College of Art and Design, 2008.