Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center will open concurrent landmark solo presentations by nationally and internationally-recognized artists Carrie Mae Weems and Paul Stephen Benjamin on January 26, 2018. Weems and Benjamin explore different aspects and interpretations of the African American experience with exhibitions; one addresses Gullah-Geechee culture in the South, while the other examines blackness through sound and color, and both explore different aspects and interpretations of the African American experience.
Carrie Mae Weems: Sea Islands Series, 1991–1992
Considered one of the nation’s most influential contemporary artists, Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953) has continued to focus on serious issues that face African Americans today, such as racism, sexism, politics, and personal identity, throughout her notable 30-year career. In the early 1990s, Weems became interested in the unique Gullah-Geechee culture of the Georgia and South Carolina coasts while studying folklore in graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley.
Her resultant Sea Islands Series, made between 1991 and 1992, chronicles and celebrates the cultures and communities of people specific to this region. The members of these communities, descended from a West African tribe who were brought to the United States as slaves beginning in the 17th century, developed a culture and language known as Gullah, traces of which persist today. The Gullah region stretches from Sandy Island, South Carolina, to Amelia Island, Florida—the locale of the culture that built some of the richest plantations in the South. Because of the islands’ majority black population and physical isolation from the mainland, Sea Island region residents were able to retain many aspects of African culture throughout the period of slavery and into the present day. Gullah-Geechee society, in fact, has been called “the most African of American cultures.”
The works on view comprise black-and-white photographs partnered with lyrical, folkloric texts and ceramic plates. Working within the conventions of photography, history, and storytelling, Weems tells the story of the African diaspora in the South through this important body of work. Her unique approach draws original connections across the Gullah and Geechee communities, uncovering new layers of complexity in the African American experience.
This presentation at Telfair Museums is the first time Weems’ Sea Islands Series has been on view in the region in which the photographs were taken. This exhibition also will provide a renewed look at how both Weems’ series and Gullah-Geechee culture and communities have evolved in the 26 years since the photographs were taken.
More information on Carrie Mae Weems can be found at telfair.org/weems
Paul Stephen Benjamin: Reinterpreting the Sound of Blackness
The second exhibition opening is by Paul Stephen Benjamin (American, b. 1966) a conceptual artist whose work is an ongoing meditation on the color black, specifically as an entry point into discussions of identity, race, and masculinity. Benjamin creates multilayered and large-scale sculptures and video installations, incorporating history, text, and popular culture. This presentation at Telfair Museums will be the largest solo presentation of the artist’s work to date and includes large-scale video installation, sculpture, and site-specific works.
Benjamin investigates the concept of the “sound of black” by editing videos to repeat phrases, video clips, or letters on analog video monitors in various states of technological decay. The coupling of the videos and the monitors, shown stacked with all external devices like electrical cords and DVD players visible, create layered and evocatively rhythmic compositions. Benjamin’s video installations make reference to blackness—from the color of the discarded monitors to the faces of notable African Americans incorporated into his videos, which are as varied as Shirley Chisholm, Condoleezza Rice, Beyoncé, LeBron James, Billie Holliday, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, and Lil Wayne.
Benjamin lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia. He holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MFA from Georgia State University. His work God Bless America is currently on view in Fictions at The Studio Museum in New York, and his solo exhibition Pure Black was on view at MOCA GA as a recent Working Artist Project recipient. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Artadia Award, and the Winnie B. Chandler Fellowship.
Carrie Mae Weems: Sea Islands Series, 1991–1992 and Paul Stephen Benjamin: Reinterpreting the Sound of Blackness will be on view January 26–May 6, 2018 at Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center in historic Savannah.
Carrie Mae Weems Related Programs
Film Screening: Daughters of the Dust
Thursday, January 25, 6pm. / Jepson Center
Julie Dash’s dreamy, visually-striking film, the first wide-release feature by a female African American director, tells the story of the Peazant family who are in the process of leaving their home on the Sea Islands for the mainland in 1902. Filmed near Savannah at Hunting Island, SC, the film was among the first to depict the complexity of Gullah-Geechee culture. (1991, 152 minutes)
Co-sponsored by Telfair’s Friends of African American Arts
Lecture by Carrie Mae Weems
Thursday, February 1, 6pm. / Jepson Center
Members free / non-members $8
Telfair presents a lecture by renowned and influential artist Carrie Mae Weems. Over the past 30 years, Weems has developed a complex body of art employing photographs, text, audio, textiles, digital images, installation, and video. Register at telfair.org/weems.
Paul Stephan Benjamin Related Programs
W.W. Law Lecture: A Conversation with Paul Stephen Benjamin
Thursday, February 8, 6pm. / Jepson Center
Free and open to the public
In collaboration with the Savannah Black Heritage Festival, the museum presents a conversation between Atlanta-based artist Paul Stephen Benjamin and Rachel Reese, Telfair’s Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, on the complex themes and issues surrounding his work.