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“I longed to cherish mirrored reflections”: Mirroring and Black Female Subjectivity in Carrie Mae Weems's Art against Shame

  • Robert R. Shane

Abstract

Through staged photographs in which she herself is often the lead actor or through appropriation of historical photographs, contemporary African American artist Carrie Mae Weems deconstructs the shaming of the black female body in American visual culture and offers counter‐hegemonic images of black female beauty. The mirror has been foundational in Western theories of subjectivity and discussions of beauty. In the artworks I analyze in this article, Weems tactically employs the mirror to engage the topos of shame in order to reject it as a way of seeing the self and to offer a new way of lovingly seeing the self. I use the work of Kelly Oliver, Helen Block Lewis, and bell hooks to articulate the relationships among the mirror, shame, and black female subjectivity in Weems's work. Weems's subjects often reckon with what Oliver calls “social melancholy” as they experience shame while standing before the mirror. However, Weems also shows that by looking again—a critical strategy I explain using Oliver's model of “the loving eye”—her subjects can use the mirror as a corrective to the social shaming gaze and make it a stage for establishing black female subjectivity, a gaze of self‐love, and beauty.

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“I longed to cherish mirrored reflections”: Mirroring and Black Female Subjectivity in Carrie Mae Weems's Art against Shame

  • Robert R. Shane

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