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Carrie Mae Weems | The Jefferson Project

June 25 - July 31, 2004

 

press release:

Opening Reception: June 25, 6:30 - 8:30pm

The Jefferson Suite (1999) considers numerous complex issues simultaneously, delving into the consequences of genetic research as it relates to race, ethics and the Justice System. Commensurate with her photo-text assemblages and installations, Weems is the narrator for The Jefferson Suite. Posed as a nightclub singer, she is figured surrounded by images of the Busch string quartet (founded in 1920 by Andolph Busch and active until the 1940s in America), most noted for its member’s stance against Nazis and Fascist race laws. Her figure and that of the musicians is rendered in soft midnight blue in contrast to the sepia tones of the other scrims; they poetically invoke the soothing tones of jazz and the blues. Juxtaposed with an audio track written and recited by the artist and a thirteen minute musical score composed by noted California jazz musician James Newton, the images represent thirteen significant moments in the history of gene research. They are suspended above the gallery floor, their sheer fabric undulating with the movement of the viewer. By incorporating the swaying of the works and an audio element, Weems creates an environment, which encapsulates the viewer, asking us to contemplate the images individually and total while subordinating the traditional museum experience of “looking.” Indeed, the power of The Jefferson Suite resides in its ability to combine unfamiliar scientific images with figures and situations with which the viewer can identify and empathize.

Thomas Jefferson is depicted by Weems gazing upon his slave and lover, Sally Hemings. Weems asks us to contemplate Jefferson as both prominent politician and a sexual being by juxtaposing tableaus of Jefferson and Hemings with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, in a shorthand that calls into question the legality and ethics of such unbalanced power relations. In these images, science and DNA confront examples of humanity and sexual desire that form part of American history.

With such images, The Jefferson Suite reminds the viewer that the seemingly complicated and distant realms of genetics has real, person and social ramifications. Discovered and lauded by scientists who have become American icons, in The Jefferson Suite DNA becomes a conduit to larger social issues of race, identity, and the proper use of technology outside the laboratory.

Excerpted from a document by Jessica Snow

 

Gallery Hours are Thursday - Saturday, Noon - 5pm
(and by appointment)

4718 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20011
T. 202.462.1601
F. 202.462.1604