The artist Carrie Mae Weems dished out some wisdom to the new graduates of the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York as the speaker for this year’s commencement exercises, held Wednesday, 18 May, at Radio City Music Hall. “I should say I’d like to thank the Academy,” Weems joked, taking the podium. “You get to graduate at Radio City Music Hall. How fabulous is that?”
Weems quickly turned existential, pondering the question: “How do you measure a life?”. She then went for inequality in the art world, rattling off the pitiful statistics on the percentage of solo shows given to women and artists of colour at US museums—Weems is the only African American artist to have had a solo exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York—and auction records for male and female artists—“The numbers tell the story”.
Speaking frankly of the difficulties of being an artist but also the compulsion to create—“That driving thing called art hounds you and you don’t have any rest”— Weems undoubtedly echoed the feelings of many of the graduates: “It’s the only thing I can possibly do.”
After her address, Weems was visibly surprised and moved when she was presented with an honorary doctorate. “I had no idea,” she said. “This is a great, great honour. Peace.”