The artists and photographers Carrie Mae Weems and LaToya Ruby Frazier and the Harvard University art history professor Sarah Lewis—formerly a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate Modern in London—came together in New York last Friday, 9 December for a discussion on race and visual representation. Moderated by the writer Rebecca Carroll and part of the WNYC public radio series How I Got Over: Reinventing Language Around Race, the talk touched upon topics including racist violence and Frazier’s 2016 photo series for Elle Magazine on residents of Flint, Michigan, where government negligence has left thousands with lead-contaminated water. Both Frazier and Weems recently visited Lewis’s Harvard classroom, making quite the impression on the students. “The semester began with Carrie, giving them a discussion and presentation that made them feel as if they’d seen the oracle, really,” Lewis said. “It’s true,” a smiling Weems replied, to hearty laughter and applause.
After the discussion, an audience member asked the oracle and her fellow panelists a question that challenged the need and merit of showing art in major institutions, mentioning the Guggenheim as an example. It is “absolutely critical being in institutions”, Weems asserted. In 2014, Weems became the first African American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York—but she has her sights set on the nearby Metropolitan Museum of Art, which acquired two of her works in 2000. “There’s nothing I would want more than to be in the Met,” she said.