In 2017, six months into the Trump administration, the influential American artist Carrie Mae Weems created a strikingly bold felt banner for the historic Women’s March on Washington that spoke to the future.
According to Noah Davis, specialist in Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s, Change Requires 2020 Vision is both a pun on the forthcoming US Presidential election, and a reference to the artist’s belief that social change comes through community building. ‘Its positive message and empathic understanding of the ties that bind us is inspiring during this period of uncertainty and anxiety,’ says Davis.
Weems studied folklore as a graduate student at UC Berkeley in the 1970s, and she continues to find inspiration in oral-history traditions. Much of her art focuses on the role of a community in shaping identities.
The present banner work was sewn by women refugees in Texas, and the art work’s aesthetic is inspired by the designs of the Gee’s Bend quilters. This remote black community in Boykin, Alabama came to public awareness in 2002, after an exhibition of their quilts at The Whitney which The New York Times described as ‘some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced’.
Born in 1953 in Portland, Oregon, Weems first emerged on the art scene in the mid-1980s with a series of photographic portraits of family life. Soon after she produced two seminal bodies of work: ‘The Coloured People Series’ and ‘The Kitchen Table Series’.
‘They were incredibly important and provocative,’ says Davis, ‘particularly The Kitchen Table Series, which is equal parts photography and prose poetry.’ The photographs and texts recount the story of a black woman’s relationships with her lovers, family and friends, and were, says Davis, ‘like melancholy vignettes about the inherent beauty and strength of vulnerability’.
Weems later participated in shows at The Whitney and MoMA, gaining a reputation for allegorical stories of domestic life. In 2014 she became the first black artist to have a retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York.
Today Weems is lauded for her compassionate representations of black culture in American society, and has influenced a number of younger artists.
‘She is deeply interested in ideas of community and systems of control, power, sexuality, identity and gender,’ says the specialist. ‘I’m certain that any young artist who is exploring these themes today has reflected deeply on her work. She is the touchstone of socio-politically engaged expression.’
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Change Requires 2020 Vision emerged from Weems’ collaborations with the House of Trees, an all-female arts collective based in San Antonio and New York which has also worked with artists like Jenny Holzer and Wangechi Mutu. The banner has been exhibited in Times Square and the Guggenheim.
It is offered in First Open, an online auction offering affordable, cutting edge post-war and contemporary art for between £1,000 and £200,000.
All the proceeds of the sale of Change Requires 20/20 Vision will go to the Centre for Refugee Services in San Antonio.