Something That Must Be Faced

Carrie Mae Weems and the Architecture of Colonization in the "Louisiana Project"

Carrie Mae Weems, Sorrow's Bed, 2003. Iris print, 20 × 20 in. Photograph from the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. © Carrie Mae Weems.

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Something That Must Be Faced

Carrie Mae Weems and the Architecture of Colonization in the "Louisiana Project"

by Claire Raymond, Jacqueline Taylor
Southern Cultures, Vol. 27, No. 2: Built/Unbuilt

“She observes these architectures from the implied perspective of a ghost, her gaze a critique of longstanding structures of racism.”

In her series (Untitled) Kitchen Table (1990), photographer Carrie Mae Weems explores and questions perceived notions of racial and racially gendered identity, using the familiar, everyday experience of a woman seated at a domestic kitchen table. Alternating between images of herself alone and with a male lover, child, or with other women, she figures the kitchen table as an architectural space within which to present ideas about tradition, family, monogamy, and relationships. The beautiful, clear-eyed, and complex images in this series established Weems as a photographer politically engaged in critiques of how power is expressed in social space. Yet, Weems has received little attention, to date, for how her photographs of architecture—including antebellum plantation houses (the Louisiana Project, 2003), classical buildings in Rome (Roaming, 2006), and dwelling structures in western Africa (Africa, 1993)—comment on racial subjectivity. In the Louisiana Project, Weems highlights the potential of buildings and landscapes to engage discourses of power, identity, gender, and race. By emphasizing architectural space, Weems’s black-and-white photographs in the Louisiana Project reveal how architectural and preservation practices emerge from and, in turn, influence cultural beliefs about identity and race.

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