Carrie Mae Weems uses photography as storytelling, incorporating elements of her own biography as well as stories of the experience of the African American community. This photograph is from Weems’ Sea Island Series, which portrays the landscape of the Sea Islands in Georgia, the last place in the United States where slavery was practiced. This surreal, haunting image depicts a mattress box spring caught in a tree. In one sense, it evokes “spirit catchers,” a practice of many African cultures in which objects were hung in trees in particular patterns to ward off the spirits of the dead. The tradition came to North America with the slave trade and survived despite centuries of white Christian slavers’ attempts to suppress African cultural roots. In a broader sense of race relations in America, the image of an object hanging from a tree also evokes the painful legacy of lynching. Furthermore, the mattress references women’s domestic space, “the place," as the 10x10 portfolio introduction puts it, "of real birth, lovemaking, and death, central realms for women as mothers, lovers, and caretakers.” Weems challenges the viewer to consider all of these references and encourages viewers to reflect on how their own stories are caught up in the broader cultural narratives of history.
Carrie Mae Weems, American, born 1953
Untitled (box spring in tree), 1995
Screen print on paper
Gift of the Women's Studies Program WSU