Cast in fiery red and inscribed “Anointed,” this powerful image portrays singer, songwriter, and actor Mary J. Blige in the moment of being crowned as royalty by artist Carrie Mae Weems. The monumental photograph’s setting, on a Victorian-era façade, offers a fitting context for “the queen of hip-hop soul,” whose commanding presence foregrounds Weems’ copious tributes to the legacies of Black women in the entertainment industry. Blige’s music has been a backdrop to Weems’ life, and this image speaks to the singer’s 2017 album Strength of a Woman.
Donning contemporary haute couture and a vintage crown, Blige cuts a noble figure in a scene that echoes both the pictorial constructs of advertisements and the profiled stance of a headshot. Derived from Weems’ commissioned photo shoot for W Magazine, the portrait and its associated interview reflect on Blige’s personal challenges following the realization that she “got played” by her now former husband. Conveying the humbling experience that enabled deep introspection and inner strength, Blige confessed: “I was never good enough; I was never pretty enough, smart enough. And there was someone chosen over me”—a crisis of self-esteem, reinforced by patriarchal and societal idealizations of what it means to be a woman. Responding to this painful real-life drama, as well as Blige’s formidable role in the film Mudbound as a vulnerable, raw individual surviving racial injustice, Weems’ image presents the performer assenting to a regal bearing—embodying the concept of triumph. Anointed celebrates not only Blige’s outward splendour and achievements in entertainment, but also her personal strength and resilience. Both artists proclaim their power to define who they are and what is important, and thus what should be celebrated, re-presented, and preserved for history.
Anointed resonates with Weems’ public installations Slow Fade to Black and Scenes and Take (2016)—both of which are shown nearby along King Street West. All address the representation of Black women in popular culture, informed by the prejudicial conditions of their professions. Positioned adjacent to Weems’ related exhibition in CONTACT Gallery, Anointed heralds the projects on view across the city, positioning Black women as critical voices in the cultural landscape.
Supported by Liza Mauer and Andrew Sheiner, Cindy and Shon Barnett, The Stonefields Foundation, and an anonymous donor.
Curated by Bonnie Rubenstein