Telfair Museum Presents Exhibitions by Two Contemporary Artists Who Explore African American Identity

Untitled (Praise House), 1992, Carrie Mae Weems. Courtesy of the artist & Jack Shainman Gallery, NY
Untitled (Praise House), 1992, Carrie Mae Weems. Courtesy of the artist & Jack Shainman Gallery, NY

Two exhibitions opening at Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center on January 26 will explore different aspects and narratives of the African American experience. Carrie Mae Weems: Sea Islands Series, 1991-1992 address Gullah-Geechee culture in the South while Paul Stephen Benjamin: Reinterpreting the Sound of Blackness examines blackness through sound and color.

“Both of these exhibitions invite questions about the impact of African American culture on American history. Carrie Mae Weems’ series looks at the Gullah-Geechee culture native to our coast, and celebrates the uniqueness of these communities by using her lens as a contemporary photographer and highlighting their traditional folklore. Paul Stephen Benjamin’s work explores the complexities of American history through the color and sound of ‘black’—using pop culture and appropriation to craft a unique commentary on race and identity today,” said Rachel Reese, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Telfair. Carrie Mae Weems: Sea

Islands Series, 1991-1992

Paul Stephen Benjamin
Paul Stephen Benjamin

Considered one of the nation’s most influential contemporary artists, Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953) has continued to focus on serious issues that face African Americans today, such as racism, sexism, politics, and personal identity, throughout her notable 30-year career. In the early 1990s, Weems became interested in the unique Gullah Geechee culture of the Georgia and South Carolina coasts while studying folklore in graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley.

Her resultant Sea Islands Series, made between 1991 and 1992, chronicles the cultures and communities of people specific to this region. The members of these communities, descended from a West African tribe who were brought to the United States as slaves, developed a culture and language known as Gullah.

Carrie Mae Weems
Carrie Mae Weems

Because of the islands’ majority black population and physical isolation from the mainland, Sea Island region residents were able to retain many aspects of African culture throughout the period of slavery and into the present day. Gullah-Geechee society, in fact, has been called “the most African of American cultures.”

The works on view comprise black-and-white photographs partnered with lyrical, folkloric texts and ceramic plates. Working within the conventions of photography, history, and storytelling, Weems tells the story of the African diaspora in the South through this important body of work.

This presentation at Telfair Museums is the first time Weems’ Sea Islands Series will be on view in the region in which the photographs were taken. This exhibition will also provide a renewed look at how both Weems’ series and Gullah-Geechee culture and communities have evolved in the 26 years since the photographs were taken.

More information on Carrie Mae Weems can be found at telfair.org/ weems.

Paul Stephen Benjamin: Reinterpreting the Sound of Blackness

The second exhibition opening is by Paul Stephen Benjamin (Amer- ican, b. 1966), a conceptual artist whose work is an ongoing meditation on the color black, specifically as an entry point into discussions of identity, race, and

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