Carrie Mae Weems: Ritual and Revolution

September 12, 2017 - December 10, 2017
Alsdorf Gallery

A practicing artist since 1978, Carrie Mae Weems (b. 1953) often creates works that blur the lines between fiction and documentary to explore universal human experiences through the black subject. Over the years Weems’ photographic practice has expanded to include video, performance, and multi-media installations. Ritual and Revolution (1998) is an immersive, gallery-sized installation that marks one of the artist’s earliest forays into three dimensions. Composed of 18 diaphanous printed cloth banners organized in a semi-architectural formation and a poetic audio track, Ritual and Revolution explores the historic human struggle for equality and justice, including references to the Middle Passage, the French Revolution, World War II, among others. Carrie Mae Weems’ work has been exhibited nationally and internationally since the 1980’s and was the subject of a traveling mid-career retrospective, Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video, which culminated with a presentation at New York’s Guggenheim Museum in January-May of 2014. She has received numerous awards and fellowships including a MacArthur Genius Award in 2013. The Block is presenting this work for the first time since it entered the museum’s collection.

An editioned work, Ritual and Revolution is part of the 2016 gift of 68 works of contemporary art to the Block Museum from art collector, philanthropist, and software innovator Peter Norton. The Block gift is one of a series of gifts Norton has made to university art museums throughout the country. The gifts were made in recognition and support of those institutions advancing innovative work to integrate art into teaching and learning across disciplines, foster creative museum practices, and engage audiences with diverse forms of contemporary art.

Image: Carrie Mae Weems, “Ritual and Revolution” (1998), installation view at P.P.O.W. Gallery, New York. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery. 

Carrie Mae Weems: Ritual and Revolution [excerpt]

"I was with you in the
ancient ruins of time
you rode me hobby-horse
into the age of revolution, remember?

I was with you when you stormed the Bastille
& the Winter Palace

And I was with you for that great and
hideous mise en scene
they call the middle passage

One potato, two potato, three potato, four
& in Ireland too

Out of the shadows
from the edge of the new world
I saw your slow persistent emergence
and I saw you spinning jenny's cotton into gold"


Related Events


Ritual and Revolution: Janet Dees and Grace Deveney on Carrie Mae Weems

Wednesday September 27, 6PM


Janet Dees, Steven and Lisa Munster Tananbaum Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and Grace Deveney, Curatorial Assistant, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and Northwestern Ph.D. Candidate in Art History discuss Weems’s art and her exploration of universal human experiences through the black subject.

Northwestern University Black Arts Initiative Conference

Black Arts International: Temporalities and Territories. October 9–October 13, 2017

Black Arts International: Temporalities and Territories will focus on art and scholarship of the black diaspora around the world. The key themes of the conference engage notions of time, space and place and the ways in which black art plays a pivotal role in and has been influenced by historical epochs such as colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade, modernity and post-modernity, industrialization and globalization; and, geopolitical contexts where art has reflected the conditions of a specific place. Some of the questions the conference will engage include: How has history shaped black artistic production outside the US? How do non-western forms of black art disrupt concepts of time and space? How might we conceive of black diasporic artistic forms outside the context of U.S.? How does the valuation of black art change within a global context?

For more information and the full week-long schedule of events see  Events at the Block Museum include:

Film Screening & Panel discussion

Sankofa with Director Haile Gerima in person

Monday October 9, 2017, 4:30PM

4:30-5:15pm Reception (Carrie Mae Weems: Ritual & Revolution, exhibition open for viewing)
5:15 PM-Opening Remarks
5:30 PM- Screening
Moderator: Ben Jones, Graduate Student, Art History, Northwestern University
Haile Gerima is an independent filmmaker and professor of film at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Born and raised in Ethiopia, Gerima emigrated to the United States in 1967. Gerima filmed his epic, Sankofa in 1993. This formally ambitious tale of a plantation slave revolt was ignored by U.S. distributors, but Gerima tapped into African American communities, and booked sold-out screenings in independent theaters around the country. Gerima continues to distribute and promote his own films, including his most recent festival success, Teza (2008), which won the Jury and Best Screenplay awards at the Venice Film Festival.
Michael Boyce Gillespie is Associate Professor of Film in the Department of Media and Communication Arts and the Black Studies Program at the City College of New York, City University of New York.
Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin is Assistant Professor Department of Theatre and Film Studies and the University of Georgia. Dr. Amma is a scholar-artist of African Diaspora performance who practices and studies history on the stage, in film, and on television. She creates artistic works based on archival research and writes about late 19th century black performance.
Tukufu Zuberi is an American sociologist, filmmaker, social critic, educator, and writer. He is one of the hosts of the long-running PBS program History Detectives. As founder of his own production company, he produced the film African Independence, which premiered at the San Diego Black Film Festival in January 2013. He is the Lasry Family Professor of Race Relations, Professor and Chair of the Sociology Department, and professor of Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Exhibition viewing & Panel discussion

Carrie Mae Weems: Ritual and Revolution

Friday October 13, 2017, 2:30PM

Moderator: LaCharles Ward, Ph.D. Candidate, Rhetoric and Public Culture, Northwestern University
Michael Hanchard is Professor of Africana and Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. His research and teaching interests combine a specialization in comparative politics with an interest in contemporary political theory, encompassing themes of nationalism, racism and xenophobia, and citizenship.
Gina Athena Ulysse is a feminist artist-anthropologist-activist and self-described Post-Zora Interventionist. She was born in Pétion-Ville, Haïti. Her various creative projects include spoken word, performance art, and installation pieces. Her poetry has appeared in several journals and collections. She is currently Professor of Anthropology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.
Romi Crawford is Associate Professor in Visual and Critical Studies and Liberal Arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her research revolves primarily around formations of racial and gendered identity and the relation to American film, visual arts, and popular culture. She was previously the Curator and Director of Education and Public Programs at the Studio Museum in Harlem and founder of the Crawford and Sloan Gallery (NYC, 1994-1998).