Iconic artist Carrie Mae Weems has partnered with longtime arts educator and public art advocate Paula Wallace, president and founder of SCAD, to shine a light on the deleterious impact of COVID-19 in the U.S. The project, RESIST COVID TAKE 6!, conceived and created by Weems, is designed to raise awareness among the public about pandemic-related racial inequities, where BIPOC communities experience greater risks to health, wellness, and economic hardship during this worldwide public health crisis.
RESIST COVID TAKE 6! reveals Weems in a new light, as she steps away from her signature photographic tableaux and into the realm of agitprop art. The “TAKE 6” of the title describes the mandated six feet of social distancing urged of persons during the pandemic. In a sequence of commanding billboards, Weems confronts viewers with the realities of this international health crisis while simultaneously providing notes of gratitude to workers within the health and service industries and making direct appeals for people to take preventive safety measures. With emphatic insistence, Weems implores passersby: “WASH YOUR HANDS, COVER YOUR FACE, KEEP A SAFE DISTANCE & GET TESTED!” The powerful text is projected against images that deliver a visceral gut punch. The words stretch across a frame of Black and Brown bodies — those statistically most likely to succumb to this relentless disease.
“I’ve worked on this project every day since March,” Weems said, describing how the idea originated in a conversation with longtime close friend Pierre Loving in the earliest days of the pandemic in the U.S. After conversations with SCAD’s Paula Wallace in late spring, following social unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Wallace invited Weems to bring her work to SCAD locations in Savannah and Atlanta.
Weems has a long and celebrated history with SCAD, which has hosted several Carrie Mae Weems exhibitions at the SCAD Museum of Art and other university galleries. In 2008, Weems served as a distinguished visiting professor at SCAD Atlanta, collaborating with SCAD students on “Constructing History: A Requiem to Mark the Moment,” a short film commissioned for the National Black Arts Festival in 2008. Eight years later, in 2016, Weems was honored for her lifetime achievements at SCAD deFINE ART and delivered the keynote address at SCAD’s Trustees Theater in Savannah. That same year, Weems staged Carrie Mae Weems: Considered at the SCAD Museum of Art in the Walter O. Evans Center for African American Studies.
“One of the important things is to understand the circumstances under which we live. This means unmasking inequity, because then you begin to see the power structures that are under it to keep you fighting one another as opposed to really looking at really the source of the problems,” said Weems. “The arts allow us to get closest to our humanity.”
This summer, Weems spoke with Paula Wallace for her SCADcast “On Creativity” podcast. “As a new public-facing art initiative, not only does RESIST COVID TAKE 6! raise critical health awareness, but it shines a light on how this pandemic has disproportionately affected Black, Latino and Native communities,” Paula Wallace said. “We are delighted to be partnering with Carrie Mae Weems, longtime friend of SCAD, to bring this important work to Atlanta and Savannah. This public art project shows SCAD students how artists engage in moments of public need.”
“Ai Weiwei is making masks, Jon Batiste is doing these wonderful concerts in public parks, open-air performances,” Weems said, speaking with admiration about how SCAD alumni and artists around the world are responding with creativity and compassion during this unusual time. “So many are exploring new ways for presenting material and work, using technology and computers and even our phones in ways we couldn’t have even imagined six months ago.”
The exhibition is currently on view in the exterior jewel boxes at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, visible to pedestrians on Turner Boulevard, and in light boxes at the main SCAD Atlanta campus in Midtown, viewable by thousands of motorists and pedestrians at 1600 Peachtree Street.
Additionally, shopping bags, buttons, flyers, and hand-fans are being distributed by Meals On Wheels Atlanta and philanthropic organizations in Savannah, directing audiences to COVID-19 testing sites and other resources during this time.
It is Weems’s desire that RESIST COVID TAKE 6! will prompt immediate concern for health and wellness among BIPOC communities and also spark worldwide awareness and action to end the pandemic and prevent future disasters from occurring. This initiative is also being activated in multiple cities nation-wide including Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Detroit.
“Carrie Mae Weems is always so generous to SCAD students, to engage them in her ideas and processes and results,” Paula Wallace said. “Her career is one of deep and broad collaboration and elevating the national and global conversation through her gifts. SCAD students benefit tremendously from her genius.”