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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:44

Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled (Woman Feeding Bird), The Kitchen Table Series, 1989-90

Video transcript

[Music] we're at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art looking at a photographic print by Carrie Mae Weems the photograph is known as untitled but parenthetically woman feeding bird this print is part of Carrie moons is iconic kitchen table series with series that she started in 1989 and finished in 1990 that looks at a woman that has centered around the kitchen table the kitchen is such a center of gravity in the home it's where food nourishment comes from there's a place to sit it's where important conversations often happen in families and in that way the kitchen table is such a metaphor for all of life's most intimate experiences all of your vulnerabilities all of your triumphs and failures and where you can have these individual experiences I think the full range of emotions can take place around a kitchen table so we're seeing one print here but it's part of a series and the artist was clear that these photographs stand on their own but they can be seen together and they can be seen with a series of text that were made soon after the photography itself was completed the complete kitchen table series is 20 prints and 14 text panels we've said that when she was making this series she worked every day on it and she brought in people from the neighborhood her friends and even people that she met on the street people that she posed that she staged these are not snapshots these are constructed images Carrie Mae Weems is telling a story with her photographs she has a background in folklore and photography so she is always combining those two so these are thought out planned out scenes there's tension in some of them where you see struggles between a mother and child between lovers but here we see solitude we see a woman alone and in this particular print she is feeding a bird the bird in a cage all the scenes are photographed from the far end of the table the vertical lines of the butcher block top lead our eye into the scene but that table also separates us we're not quite seated at the table our vantage is a little too high we're always a viewer not a participant we're meant to observe but it isn't our experience we see this woman who is occupying the space between the rectangle of the door and the circle from which the birdcage hangs there is this geometric frame that she's constructed for that figure and it's capped off with the way that the light hangs from the ceiling and that it's creating a spotlight guiding you to look at her body and look at how her hands are posed on the chair holding a cigarette as well as the other hand posed about to feed the bird the modulation of light is beautiful it's soft and intimate Weems has deliberately left certain areas darker or left certain areas less sharp it's so interesting because the light focuses our attention on an absence on the space above the table where there is nothing in order to see what's taking place we have to see past that illuminated area into the dimmer light beyond and she's even obscured her face a little bit not only is it in that dimmer light and against the darker image on the back wall but she's turned her face slightly away she's interacting with the bird and that's where the primary connection is happening and the caged bird is such a historically powerful symbol the idea of entrapment the idea of a thing that is kept for its beauty for its song but kept inside when we think about the role of women and art and history this idea of the Caged Bird representing a woman for so much of the history of art our attention was on a portrait of a famous person of the politically powerful person it was heroic and here there's a flipping and we have a celebration of the most intimate space this is a power of a woman in this domestic environment it's bringing to the fore the importance of this that we think about women in this mess --tx paces and have often been dismissed sure a woman is in the kitchen that's where she spends a lot of time but with this series and this print in particular williams is asking us to look a little deeper to think more about the importance of this space and the multidimensionality of that space the extraordinary range of emotions and activities that take place here and that occupy a woman's life the kitchen is Center and it's not just a place where food is made but it is a place where home happens [Music]