Carrie Mae Weems-Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival-Toronto

Photos: Tiffany Shum

Cast in fiery red and inscribed “Anointed,” this powerful image portrays singer, songwriter, and actor Mary J. Blige in the moment of being crowned as royalty by artist Carrie Mae Weems. The monumental photograph’s setting, on a Victorian-era façade, offers a fitting context for “the queen of hip-hop soul,” whose commanding presence foregrounds Weems’ copious tributes to the legacies of Black women in the entertainment industry.  (click on photos to enlarge)

Placing the spotlight on Black women in popular culture, Slow Fade to Black (2010) recasts images of singers and performers captured at the height of their success in the 20th century. Presented at a crossroads in Toronto’s Entertainment District, Carrie Mae Weems’ installation of 13 larger-than-life portraits—bridging several generations—portrays Josephine Baker, Nina Simone, Leontyne Price, Dinah Washington, Mahalia Jackson, Shirley Bassey, Ella Fitzgerald, Abbey Lincoln, Eartha Kitt, Koko Taylor, and Katherine Dunham. While some of these women retain their iconic status today, others are relatively unknown. Weems contends that their legacies fade as time elapses, yet many of their white, and especially male, counterparts—often performers deeply influenced by groundbreaking Black artists—disproportionately maintain prominence; a circumstance she seeks to illuminate and change.

Operating on multiple levels, Scenes & Take (2016) continues Carrie Mae Weems’ examination of society and its structures of power, using a fictionalized story to acknowledge Hollywood’s scandalous realities and broad-reaching effects. Weems reveals the systemic apparatuses of control, and points to the social and economic disparity between men and women—especially women of colour—in both the film industry and society at large.

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