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University Artist in Residence Carrie Mae Weems H’17 Receives Prestigious Hasselblad Award
Internationally renowned artist Carrie Mae Weems H’17, Syracuse University’s first-ever artist in residence, has been named the 2023 Hasselblad Award laureate by the Hasselblad Foundation, a prize that is often referred to as the “Nobel Prize” of photography.
“Syracuse University is proud to have Carrie Mae Weems, one of the most prolific, influential and intriguing artists of our time, as a member of our community,” says Chancellor Kent Syverud. “She has a way of challenging cultural norms and shedding light on injustices that push us to question our own perspectives and beliefs. Her contributions to the world of art, and on communities and our broader society are extraordinary. On behalf of Syracuse University, I extend my deepest congratulations on this once-in-a-lifetime achievement.”
The Hasselblad Award is an international photography prize that is granted annually to a photographer recognized for major achievements. It was presented for the first time in 1980 to Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson. The award includes a monetary prize of SEK 2,000,000 (about $188,000) and gold medal. The award also includes a medium format Hasselblad camera from the Gothenburg-based camera company Hasselblad.
An award ceremony will take place on Oct. 13 in Gotherburg, Sweden. That same day, an exhibition of Weems’ work will open at the Hasselblad Center and a new publication about Weems will be released.
“Carrie Mae Weems’s work has for decades anticipated salient issues of our time—the struggle for racial equality and human rights—with unflinching visual and ethical force. Her artistic practice is inherently activist, poignant and lyrical. She creates evocative, potent tableaux and confronts painful histories, institutional power and social discriminations,” the Hasselblad Foundation said in a statement. “At the core of Weems’s wide-ranging oeuvre is the still photograph, but she also deftly employs video, text, immersive multimedia installations and performance. She often inserts herself in her work, thus embodying and commemorating the Black female subject.”
“In the midst of the radical shifts taking place across cultural institutions, and as the first African American woman to receive the Hasselblad Award, some might say, ‘it’s about time!’ Nevertheless, receiving the Hasselblad Award has left me speechless. I don’t have the words to express the depth of my gratitude. To have my family name inscribed on this historic roster, alongside some of the most outstanding photographers of our time, is a cherished honor,” Weems says. “To be recognized comes with the continued responsibility to deliver on the promise made to myself and to the field, which is to shine a light into the darker corners of our time and thereby, with a sense of grace and humility, illuminate a path forward. For this honor, I thank the Hasselblad Foundation and the jury.”
A MacArthur Fellowship (a.k.a. “Genius” grant) recipient and the first African American woman to have a retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, Weems has used multiple mediums (photography, video, digital imagery, text, fabric and more) throughout her career to explore themes of cultural identity, sexism, class, political systems, family relationships and the consequences of power.
As artist in residence, Weems engages with Syracuse University faculty and students in a number of ways, including working with students in the design, planning and preparation of exhibitions. The artist in residence program is overseen by the Office of Academic Affairs.
Weems first came to Syracuse in 1988 to participate in Light Work’s artist-in-residence program. Over the years, she has participated in several programs at Light Work and has a long history of engaging with students and the University community.
Weems taught at Syracuse University previously, and out of her two courses Art in Civic Engagement and Art and Social Dialogue came the innovative and popular Urban Video Project. She previously was artist-in-residence in the College of Visual and Performing Arts (2005-06) and she was a distinguished guest of the University Lectures in 2014.
Weems also was bestowed an honorary doctorate by the University in 2017 (along with honorary degrees from Bowdoin College, the California College of Art, Colgate University, the New York School of Visual Arts, Maryland Institute College of Art and Smith College).
In July 2020, Weems was honored by the City of Syracuse for “Resist COVID Take 6,” her project to raise public awareness about the impact of COVID-19 on people of color, promote preventative measures and dispel harmful falsehoods about the virus.
Through image and text, film, video, performance and her many lectures, presentations and culturally significant convenings with individuals across a multitude of disciplines, Weems has created a complex body of work that centers on her overarching commitment to helping us better understand our present moment by examining our collective past. Determined as ever to enter the picture—both literally and metaphorically—Weems has sustained an ongoing dialogue within contemporary discourse for more than 35 years.
Weems has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions at major national and international museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Frist Center for Visual Art, Nashville; The Cleveland Museum of Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo in Seville, Spain. Most recently, Weems curated “What Could Have Been” in the Guggenheim Museum’s first-ever, artist-curated exhibition titled “Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection.”
One of her photographs, “The Shape of Things,” was the title piece in a 2016-17 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York featuring works from the collection of alumnus Robert B. Menschel ’51, H’91.
She is represented in public and private collections around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; National Gallery of Canada; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
In total, seven publications of her work have been produced: “Kitchen Table Series” (2016), “Three Decades of Photography” (2012), “Social Studies” (2010), “Carrie Mae Weems: Constructing History” (2009), “The Hampton Project” (2000), “Carrie Mae Weems: Recent Work, 1992-1998” (1999) and “Carrie Mae Weems” (1994).
In addition to the MacArthur Fellowship, Weems has received numerous other fellowships, grants and awards, including the prestigious Prix de Roma, the Frida Kahlo Award for Innovative Creativity, the WEB DuBois Medal, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Award, the BET Honors Visual Artist Award, the Lucie Award for Fine Art Photography, the ICP Spotlights Award from the International Center of Photography, and she was named an honorary fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.
In 2012, Weems was awarded one of the U.S. Department of State’s first Medals of Arts in recognition of her commitment to the State Department’s Arts in Embassies program. In 2013, she received the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She was one of four artists honored at the Guggenheim’s 2014 International Gala.
In 2018, the Syracuse University Art Galleries (now Syracuse University Art Museum) acquired three significant works by Weems through a generous gift from alumnus Richard L. Menschel ’55 and the artist: “People of a Darker Hue” (2016)—a 15-minute video—and “All the Boys (Blocked 1)” and “All the Boys (Blocked 2)” (2016), archival photographic prints with screenprint.
Weems earned a B.F.A. degree at the California Institute of the Arts and an M.F.A. degree at the University of California, San Diego, and studied in the Graduate Program in Folklore at the University of California, Berkeley.
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