ISSA RAE OFTEN WEARS statement T-shirts on HBO’s “Insecure.” In recent episodes, her tees have declared “Love is Al Green” and promoted “Inglewood” and “N.W.A.” Another said “Mood” under a portrait of Nina Simone. When she went to the California African American Museum in Season Two, her shirt said, “The Last Poets.”

It’s seven episodes into Season Three now, and last Sunday, Issa had a Carrie Mae Weems T-shirt on while she was obsessing about Nathan, a guy she recently met. They vibed and had been hanging out. The situation had relationship potential. Then he disappeared. She texted him repeatedly and got no response. He ghosted her.

Obsessed with what was going on with Nathan and why he was ignoring her texts, Issa made her best friend Molly accompany her to his apartment in the episode titled “Obsessed-Like.” They showed up at his door after 6 p.m bearing desserts. A lawyer, Molly had just left work and wore a suit with a silk shirt. Issa spent most of the day in bed procrastinating and second-guessing herself. She had thrown a trench coat over her plaid pajama pants and a white T-shirt with an image from Carrie Mae Weems’s Kitchen Table Series.

Over a career spanning more than three decades, Weems has developed a complex body of work across a range of mediums from photography and video to audio and installation. She is based in New York and splits her time between Syracuse and Brooklyn.

Weems made her 1990 Kitchen Table Series when she was living in Northampton, Mass., teaching at Hampshire College. She set up a camera at one end of her dining room table and used the lamp hanging above as her sole lighting source. Then she engaged in a daily routine of photographing herself alone and with a tight cast—her daughter, friends, a lover. It was an exercise in representation, visualizing her story in the intimacy of her domestic space.

Comprised of 20 photographs and 14 text panels, the Kitchen Table Series is arguably her most celebrated. The themes and cultural issues she explores in the series—family relationships, identity, class, sexism, and power—are reflected in her larger practice.


The Artist Series by Helmut Lang T-shirt featuring “Untitled (Woman Standing Alone),” 1990 by Carrie Mae Weems


IN THE RECENTLY PUBLISHED VOLUME, “Carrie Mae Weems: Kitchen Table Series,” curator Adrienne Edwards cites the originality of the project. “…I want to linger with the strategies Weems deploys, namely the figure of the table, a return to the flesh, and the function of allegory, in order to articulate the work’s conceptual parameters through the ways in which historical conditions, material choices, formal devices, and aspects of being intersect and are expressed,” Edwards writes.

“The wide and immediately positive reception of the Kitchen Table Series can be attributed to the context and history from which it emerges. It has proven seminal because it wades into a long-standing discourse on blackness and its visual representation, which is fundamentally related to the insistence on the part of artists of African descent to imagine and present their culture from their perspective.”

“The wide and immediately positive reception of the Kitchen Table Series can be attributed to the context and history from which it emerges. It has proven seminal because it wades into a long-standing discourse on blackness and its visual representation…” — Curator Adrienne Edwards

The Weems T-shirt was produced by Helmut Lang, part of the designer’s series of projects with several artists, including Martine Syms and Paul Mpagi Sepuya. The Weems series was launched earlier this year in May. Helmut Lang is selling posters, and short- and long-sleeve T-shirts featuring three different works from the Kitchen Table Series, with 15 percent of the sales proceeds going to Social Studie 101, an artists collective Weems founded in 2002.

The work featured on Issa’s T-shirt is a black-and-white image of Weems standing at the head of her dining room table—leaning slightly forward, her hands are resting on the table and she is staring confidently at the camera. It’s called “Untitled (Woman Standing Alone).” CT


TOP IMAGE: Screenshot from “Insecure” (Season 3, Episode 7). From left, Issa Rae (Issa) and Yvonne Orji (Molly).


READ MORE about Carrie Mae Weems on her website


Carrie Mae Weems recently published a book dedicated to her Kitchen Table Series. “Carrie Mae Weems: Kitchen Table Series” is a fully illustrated volume and includes contributions from curators Adrienne Edwards and Sarah Lewis. “Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video” documents the first major survey of her career. The traveling exhibition was the first solo show by a black female artist to be presented at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Published this month, “Carrie Mae Weems: Strategies of Engagement” coincides with the artist’s exhibition currently on view at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College, through Dec. 13, 2018.


CARRIE MAE WEEMS, “Untitled (Woman Standing Alone),” 1990 (gelatin silver print). | © Carrie Mae Weems via Helmut Lang


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