Carrie Mae Weems

Carrie Mae Weems' 'All The Boys' 2016 series, part of the LSU Museum of Art exhibit, was a response to the killings of young African American men by authorities.

The usual suspects in Carrie Mae Weems' photographs are black men, who, she says, are subjected to systematic violence.

And that violence, she says, is wielded through the power of authority.

It's the theme of her exhibit, "Carrie Mae Weems: The Usual Suspects," running through Oct. 18 at the LSU Museum of Art.

The exhibit includes photographs and video from her “All the Boys” and “The Usual Suspects” series, along with photographs from other series sprinkled among works in the museum's permanent collection exhibit, "Art in Louisiana: Views into the Collection."

But it's the gallery solely dedicated to Weems where her message has the most impact, questioning sustained violence against black men.

She spoke candidly in her gallery talk to open the show.       

"The work, the work that's in this room, the work that's dealing with this sustained level of violence, the sustained level of threat to the body, to the black body, to black men, to black women, to people of color, to women — the sustained history has been sustained for a long time," she said.

"And so, the images that are on these walls are images that we all know one way or another," she said. "We will all grapple with them one way or another. You've seen them on the news one way or another. And we've decided to look one way or another or we've decided not to look one way or another."

Weems is considered one of the country's most influential contemporary artists. She has investigated family relationships, cultural identity, sexism, class, political systems and the consequences of power through a complex body of art employing photographs, text, fabric, audio, digital images, installation and video.

She's probably best known for her 1990 "Kitchen Table" series of photos exploring women's relationships to each other and themselves. That series is showing through May 18 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Earlier this year, Weems spoke at LSU, where she is the 2017-18 Nadine Carter Russell Chair in the LSU College of Art and Design, which is co-hosting the exhibit.

At LSU, she talked about "the systematic, brutal authority of the state that is systematically directed against black bodies and black men." And she questioned the criminal stereotypes of those men.

One of them, Lequan McDonald, was shot by a Chicago police officer on Oct. 14, 2014. Weems has blown up five frames from surveillance video of the shooting, which is the first thing seen by visitors in the gallery.

Three officers eventually were charged in McDonald's shooting, and Weems commemorated his death in her talk, along with that of Alton Sterling, who died on July 5, 2016, in a police confrontation in Baton Rouge.

"The material and the ideas have been there," Weems says. "And so I've made this work, and it's been complicated to make the work. ... It's painful to have to deal with this work constantly, but it's also painful to deal with this life constantly. And the threat constantly. And the challenge constantly."


Carrie Mae Weems: The Usual Suspects

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays; 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Through Oct. 14.

WHERE: LSU Museum of Art in the Shaw Center for the Arts, 100 Lafayette St.

ADMISSION: $5. Free for ages 12 and younger, museum members and university students with ID. Free for all on first Sundays of the month.

INFORMATION: (225) 389-7200, lsumoa.org.

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