Carrie Mae Weems: “Grace Notes: Reflections for Now” | ART21 “Exclusive”

Episode #238: A look at artist Carrie Mae Weems staging “Grace Notes: Reflections for Now,” a performance that examines the escalating racial tensions across the United States, and the role of grace in the pursuit of democracy. Although known for her work as a photographer, in “Grace Notes” Weems blends spoken word, music, projected video, and dance to commemorate the tragic deaths of young black men like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin.

“The thing to me that is remarkable about our history, about who we are, about how we have conducted ourselves in the onslaught of history, is to maintain the core of our dignity,” says Weems to the show’s cast during a rehearsal. “That is really the ultimate call of grace.” “Grace Notes” was commissioned by Spoleto Festival USA and performed in June 2016 to honor the nine churchgoers who were killed one year earlier at Emanuel AME Church, located just three blocks from the College of Charleston Sottile Theatre where Grace Notes was performed. It will be performed again at the Yale Repertory Theatre in September 2016, as part of the “No Boundaries Series”.

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Carrie Mae Weems’s vibrant explorations of photography, video, and verse breathe new life into traditional narrative forms like social documentary, tableaux, self-portrait, and oral history. Eliciting epic contexts from individually framed moments, Weems debunks racist and sexist labels, examines the relationship between power and aesthetics, and uses personal biography to articulate broader truths. Whether adapting or appropriating archival images, restaging recognizable photographs, or creating altogether new scenes, she traces an essential indirect history of the depiction of African Americans for more than a century.

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CREDITS: Producer: Ian Forster. Consulting Producer: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Editor: Kevin Alexander. Camera: John Barnhardt, Tabha Joshi & Bryant Thomas. Sound: Cory Fallows & Erik Spink. Special Thanks: College of Charleston Sottile Theatre, Spoleto Festival USA & The Wooster Group.

“Grace Notes: Reflections for Now” Writer & Director: Carrie Mae Weems. The Three Graces: Eisa Davis, Alicia Hall Moran & Imani Uzuri. Poets: Aja Monet & Carl Hancock Rux. Dancer: Francesca Harper. Steppers: Brothers Of The Tau Eta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Orchestra & Jazz Band: Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra, Geri Allen, Calvin Jones, Curtis Nowosad & Jawwaad Taylor. Curator: Sarah Lewis. Music Director & Composer: James Newton. Composer: Craig Harris. Dramaturg: Kyle Bass. Conductor: John Kennedy. Set Designer: Matt Saunders. Costume Designer: Abby Lutz. Lighting Designer: Jonathan Spencer. Stage Production Manager: Mike Egan.

ART21 “Exclusive” is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; 21c Museum Hotel, and by individual contributors.

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