“Live to the fullest of your being,” artist Carrie Mae Weems suggested to an audience of Upper School students and faculty as this year’s Anne Sophie Laumont ’99 guest lecturer. The acclaimed artist and MacArthur Fellowship recipient discussed “The Comforting Power of Voice” by sharing her wisdom and glimpses of her celebrated work. Her study of the human experience through multiple mediums, most notably photography, investigates intricate topics such as gender, racism, sexism, family relationships, class and political systems.
“During the past 25 years, Weems has worked towards developing a complex body of art that has at various times employed photographs, text, fabric, audio, digital images, installation and, most recently, video,” her biography notes. Her responsibility as an artist is “to work, to sing for her supper, to make art, beautiful and powerful, that adds and reveals; to beautify the mess of a messy world, to heal the sick and feed the helpless; to shout bravely from the rooftops and storm barricaded doors and voice the specifics of our historic moment.”
Weems talked about locating her voice through her work—a pursuit she encouraged all to take on. She said this involves discovering “what’s unique and similar about you…the who or what of ourselves, the uniqueness of our own skin.” Weems also explained she explored her relationship to others by interacting with her subjects as she told their stories. As a result, she formed a “deep relationship with people, places and things.” In the process, she confronted and “accepted the complexity” of herself while finding meaning for her life as well.
In preparation for this year’s Laumont Lecture, students and teachers had the opportunity to view an exhibit of Weems’ work at the Guggenheim Museum: “Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video.” While at Spence, Weems also presented select pieces, ranging from a “Constructing History” photography project that depicted, from her point of view, America in the 1960s to a public arts project entitled “Operation: Activate,” where Weems used billboards to prompt change in a community in Syracuse, NY.
After the talk, Head of the Visual Arts Department Laura McCallum and junior Lillie K. ’15 hosted a question and answer session before a reception in the Drawing Room. Alumnae from the Class of 1999, celebrating their 15th Reunion, also joined Upper School students and teachers, honoring the memory of their former classmate while hearing about Weems’ personal journey as well as her sage advice.
At the culmination of the presentation, Head of School Bodie Brizendine thanked Weems, using the guest’s own words, “for the trail you’ve left behind here.”
The Anne Sophie Laumont ’99 Lecture honors and remembers the life of Anne Sophie Laumont ’99, a vibrant young woman whose broad embrace of life and learning continues to inspire the Spence community today.