QUESTIONS: Carrie Mae Weems

The following questions can be used to spark conversation before, during, and after viewing the artist's film segment. They were compiled from our Educators' Guides and Screening Toolkits. We strongly encourage active viewing strategies that involve audiences in discussion in order to anticipate and set-up the ideas in the film, clarify content, or further the ideas while watching, and gives viewers the opportunity to process and re-consider their ideas after watching. Additional resources and strategies for teaching with films and working with contemporary art can be found in Teach.


"The Assassination of Medgar, Malcolm, and Martin," 2008. Archival pigment print, 61 x 51 inches. © Carrie Mae Weems. Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Before Viewing
Define and discuss the terms borrowing, appropriation, and plagiarism within the context of art. From what sources do artists appropriate or borrow materials, to create their own art? Why do they do this?

How is history perceived, shared, and taught? Research the term social history, and discuss how this approach to history and historical research differs from history, traditionally defined and interpreted.

In what ways does personal or family history affect or influence our understanding of the past? What is the role of photography in documenting and constructing personal history?


SEGMENT: Carrie Mae Weems in "Compassion"

While Viewing
List the historic events mentioned during this segment. In what ways are these events of American history significant for Weems, and why? In what ways are they significant to contemporary life and to you, and why?

Weems discusses several disputes in relation to borrowing and owning historic photographic images. How have these disputes and attitudes toward appropriation shaped her work?


"Blue Black Boy," detail; "Magenta Colored Girl," detail; "Red Bone Boy," detail; "Golden Yella Girl," detail, 1990–97. Toned silver prints with silkscreened text on matte, 28 1/4x 28 1/4 inches each. © Carrie Mae Weems. Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

After Viewing
In what ways has Weems reconsidered portraiture? What visual elements and devices does she use to reframe the people and events that she represents in her work?

How does Weems "construct" history? What techniques does she use to tell a larger story, through her work? How do these techniques represent historical events while also addressing the nature of history itself? What is the relationship between Weems's work and social history?


"May Flowers from May Days Long Forgotten," 2002. C-print, 34 inches diameter. © Carrie Mae Weems. Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Through her work, Weems has examined the last forty years of her own life, along with "all the amazing and horrific things" that are part of our collective history. What responsibilities and ethical roles does she take on as an artist, and how does she address the challenge of doing so?