Book Review: Carrie Mae Weems "The Kitchen Table Series"
by Liana DeMasi
In 1990, Carrie Mae Weems exhibited The Kitchen Table Series, which has proven to be her most famous work. A quarter of a century later, a book was published solely dedicated to the series that weaves sexism, racism, class, and cultural identity into the 20 photographs and 14 text panels that comprise the collection.
The images feature a black, female protagonist who serves as an archetypal character, though they are in actuality self-portraits made by Weems. A single light hangs from the ceiling, illuminating the room while adding consistency in an evolving story. She is shown alone, with friends, with a male figure, or with children, allowing the work to be equal parts introspective and extrospective. The viewer is taken on a visual and literary journey through the protagonist’s connection to others and herself, concluding with her solitude—appropriately playing solitaire.
While at first glance the kitchen setting may appear minimalistic, it serves as a reminder of how telling our experiences in our kitchen can be—stories are told, food is shared, fights are started (murder is committed), laughter is heard, growth occurs; Weems could not have picked a more appropriate site to illustrate an exploration of social constructs.
This series is not photojournalism, and is fictional, yet it still documents realistic, everyday activity. The scenes are distinctly relatable—we all have the capacity to be the protagonist. It could be us applying lipstick with our child or mother, us with our arms around our lover, us taking a drag of a cigarette with a solemn look on our face.
Every few images, a text panel appears, complimenting the scene with a compelling part of the story. The second text panel includes several lines that speak to the themes evident in the series: “‘What can you teach me?’ He wasn’t sure, confessing he didn't have a handle on this thing called life either.” Honest and raw, The Kitchen Table Series illustrates how we are all learning—from ourselves and each other—in our journey through this thing called life.
© Article by Liana DeMasi
© Images courtesy of Carrie Mae Weems and Jack Shainman Gallery.
Take a look at The Kitchen Table Series page: http://www.artbook.com/9788862084628.html