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Missing Link, Liberty

36 x 24 in. (91.44 x 60.96 cm)

Carrie Mae Weems (Portland, OR, 1953 – ) Artist

Object Type: Photography
Medium and Support: Iris print on paper
Credit Line: Gift of the Artist
Accession Number: 2010.3

Web Notes
Carrie Mae Weems is considered one of the most influential contemporary American artists working today. Her work explores issues of race, class, and gender identity in a critique of political systems and the consequences of power. Activism is a central concern of her practice, and, in her own words, she uses her photography as a “weapon toward instituting political and cultural change.”

In 2003, the Newcomb Art Gallery (now the Newcomb Art Museum) commissioned Weems to create an exhibition marking the anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase. Titled The Louisiana Project, the exhibit examined the legacy of slaveholding Louisiana – linking it to contemporary issues of racial disenfranchisement and gender disparities. The Louisiana Project uses a Mardi Gras ball as the scene for this conversation, juxtaposing images of a masked man at a Mardi Gras Ball with images of the artist dressed in antebellum clothing. Weems is photographed at sites of racial trauma and sexual violence, while the man (played by Weems herself), anonymous behind his mask, moves carefree, secure within the structures of his institutional power.

In this image, “Missing Link, Liberty,” a person dressed in suit-and-tails is wearing a donkey mask in reference to an 1873 Mistick Krewe of Comus Mardi Gras parade themed “The Missing Link”. During this parade, white supremacists co-opted the Darwinian analogy and dressed as animals in protest at the rise of African Americans holding political office. To Weems, this Mardi Gras performance was parallel to other displays of social hierarchy within New Orleans society. “Carnival is the way in which the city is run,” she argues. Krewes hold power that is passed down. As a metaphor, Weems continues, “what [a mask] really means, what it really gets at, what it really tries to subscribe and circumscribe” she says, is that “our whole society is veiled and masked" and the only true missing link is “liberty and justice.” 

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