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Abstract

Of the pieces shown in the 2016 exhibit “30 Americans” at the Tacoma Art Museum, Carrie Mae Weems's "From here I saw what happened and I cried" (1995-1996) was one of the most impactful. Weems's piece is composed of 33 toned images - with two blue-toned images bookending the other red-toned images - framed in circular mattes with sandblasted text over the glass frame. For this work, Weems re-presents daguerreotypes commissioned by Louis Agassiz in 1850; Each portrait, toned in blood-red, has a sandblasted text overlay that, when put together, presents an American narrative of black identity (the full text is included in the works cited). In this essay, I use Frantz Fanon’s “The fact of blackness” to analyze Weems’s piece within the context of queer theory. Fanon’s theories show the significance of Weems’s appropriation of the daguerreotypes – as she attempts to show that the subjects (as well as the black community in America) have been endlessly categorized and victimized and humiliated at the hands of (and for the benefit of) white people. Weems’s piece reclaims these identities and narratives imposed on her subjects while at the same time forcing viewers to confront the bloody reality of the black American experience.