A Fitting Tribute to Carrie Mae Weems’s Monumentality

Carrie Mae Weems, from the series Roaming (2006) (photo Naomi Polonsky/Hyperallergic)

LONDON — A woman with an austere bun stands in a floor-length black gown, her back to the camera. First she’s pictured looking out at the Roman-era Pyramid of Cestius, then the 16th-century Jewish ghetto in Rome, then Mussolini’s Palace of Italian Civilization. These monumental structures tower over her, but her stance is stately and defiant. The woman is Carrie Mae Weems and the photographs form part of her series Roaming (2006), now on view in Carrie Mae Weems: Reflections for Now at the Barbican Art Gallery. In these carefully conceived black-and-white images, she poses as a timeless “muse” in front of architectural sites that chronicle Italy’s history of imperialism.

Roaming was one of the series included in Weems’s exhibition at the Guggenheim in 2014, Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video — her first significant show at a New York museum and, as the Guggenheim was keen to highlight, its first-ever retrospective dedicated to an African-American woman. What the museum was less vocal about is that the exhibition ran in parallel with a major survey on Italian Futurism, the controversial early 20th-century movement founded by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. One of the first members of Mussolini’s National Fascist Party, Marinetti tried to make Futurism the official state art of Fascist Italy. In the movement’s manifesto, he stated his intention to “demolish museums and libraries” and “fight feminism.”

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