DECADE Theme Preview: “Language Is a Virus from Outer Space”
Day 1: Carrie Mae Weems’s “Colored People” Series

This week, we will focus on the theme “Language Is a Virus from Outer Space” from DECADE: Contemporary Collecting 2002–2012. The works in this theme focus on artists’ use of language and the written word. Whether playful, sinister, ironic, humorous, or laden with sexual innuendo, words provide artists with a powerful means to make their intentions clear, make a statement, or add a second layer of meaning to the works they create.

In her “Colored People” series, Carrie Mae Weems explores the diversity of skin tones within the African American community. In each work, a child is photographed through a different colored filter; the accompanying text provides the term that has historically been used to describe a person with that skin tone. The use of this slang text with a child’s photograph rather than an adult’s is intentional and is meant to serve as a comment on how associations with color and racial identity begin early in life.

IMAGES: Carrie Mae Weems (American, born 1953). Clockwise from top left: Blue Black Boy, Golden Yella Girl, Red Bone Boy, and Magenta Colored Girl from the series “Colored People,” 1997. Toned and/or color-stained silver prints with text on mat, 30 x 30 inches (76.2 x 76.2 cm) each. Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., by exchange, 2008. © 1997 Carrie Mae Weems.

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