Untitled (Woman standing alone) is part of artist Carrie Mae Weemss The Kitchen Table Series.
"Untitled (Woman standing alone)" is part of artist Carrie Mae Weems's The Kitchen Table Series. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery
When I first saw photos from Carrie Mae Weems's The Kitchen Table Series as a college student, I remember being entranced by the Black woman who inhabited nearly every frame. In all of the different scenes of love, exhaustion, boredom, playfulness—oriented around the titular kitchen table—the woman occupied a space I had very rarely seen in art at that point. She was the protagonist and antagonist, the love interest, the narrator, the head of the table—she was in control of how the viewers saw her. The woman's fears, shortcomings, desires, and loves were centered in a way that felt powerful. It was a Big Art Moment for me.

Originally completed in 1990 and consisting of 20 photos and 14 text panels, Weems's The Kitchen Table Series tells the story of one woman's life as it unfolds around a kitchen table. The character is portrayed by Weems herself, though she isn't necessarily a self-portrait. “I use my body as a stand-in, but I never think of it as being about me," she has said. "Rather, the character helps to reveal something that is more complicated about the lives of women.” I think my younger self responded most to this form of Weems's world-building. Though the person she constructed in the series wasn't real, the character reflected a desire I had to see Black women in charge of our own stories.

Jack Shainman Gallery has a virtual "viewing room" dedicated to The Kitchen Table Series. The "room" includes some key images as well as installation images of the series, interviews with and about Weems, and video of her speech on the project at the National Gallery of Art in 2018. It's a good trove of discovery—don't miss it.

Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Make Up) is another one of my favorites.
"Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Make Up)" is another one of my favorites. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery