Operating on multiple levels, Scenes & Take (2016) continues Carrie Mae Weems’ examination of society and its structures of power, using a fictionalized story to acknowledge Hollywood’s scandalous realities and broad-reaching effects. Weems reveals the systemic apparatuses of control, and points to the social and economic disparity between men and women—especially women of colour—in both the film industry and society at large.
Since the mid-1980s, Weems’ has combined image and text to startling effect, and employed her own body as both performer and subject. In Scenes & Take, Weems reprises her emblematic “muse” character, featured in various past works as the embodiment of a Black female gaze. Clad in a long black dress, she inhabits the sets of contemporary television productions that feature Black women leads and Black writers and producers. These notable sites of inclusion, acceptance, and empowerment interrupt the broader cultural framework, dominated by whiteness. In this dramatic site-specific installation, Weems combines two works from the series, each featuring a photograph staged on the set of Scandal, the political thriller television series created by Shonda Rhimes. Presented at street level on the exterior of the TIFF Bell Lightbox—headquarters of the Toronto International Film Festival—Weems’ cinematic mises en scène activate the street corner. Characterizing TIFF’s commitment to increasing opportunities for women on both sides of the camera, her theatrical set-ups are timely assertions, preempting the current and definitive historical moment of the #MeToo movement. Here Weems’ character occupies performative spaces as participant and observer, claiming these long-fought-for arenas of power from a leading role that demands respect and increased visibility for Black women in popular culture.
Emulating the format of a film script, the textual component of each work is seemingly excerpted from a broader narrative, one distinct from the images yet maintaining a tenuous connection to them. These fictional scenarios, each listing the production’s title, director, scene, and take, evoke the implications of male authority, of professional protocol—or lack thereof—and of women’s subjugation within the complex and deeply entrenched star system. Weems juxtaposes references to celebrated cinematic works against the dramatized words of famed male directors and imaginary screenwriters to tease out the implicit sexism of the industry. Giving centre stage to Black women in popular culture, she foregrounds the shifting cultural climate and the individuals behind it. Weems is witness and instigator, standing on the cusp of great change.
Supported by Liza Mauer and Andrew Sheiner, Cindy and Shon Barnett, The Stonefields Foundation, and an anonymous donor.