Carrie Mae Weems: The Kitchen Table Series
The Kitchen Table Series, originally produced in 1990, is one of Carrie Mae Weems’ most iconic and acclaimed set of works. The photographs form the narrative of a woman’s life, depicting her relationships and the development of her identity – as lover, wife, mother, friend and individual. As described by Weems, this series illustrates "the battle around the family ... monogamy ... and between the sexes." Each carefully composed scene is anchored by the kitchen table, the heart of the home and traditionally the domain of women. In the introduction to Kitchen Table Series, the first publication with the series printed in its entirety, Sarah Lewis writes, “The Kitchen Table Series remains one of the few narrative works in the history of photography to cast a black female protagonist in a journey towards utter empowerment” and describes the series as “one woman’s journey to becoming herself.” 
Though the character is an archetype, Weems herself is pictured as the protagonist. As both the creator and subject of Kitchen Table Series, Weems performs in the making of the work a journey of self-actualization; as the artist she has the power to tell her own story and shape her own image. In its intimate exploration of interiority, domesticity and self-imaging, the Kitchen Table Series seeks to interrogate and reimagine the possibility of her subject, a black woman. In her own words, Weems adds that “black experience is not really the main point; rather, complex, dimensional, human experience and social inclusion…is the main point.”
 Weems, Carrie Mae. Carrie Mae Weems: Kitchen Table Series. Italy: Damiani, 2016. Illustrated.
Editions of the above work are held in the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AK; and the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA.
“I am both subject and object; performer and director. I only recently realized that I’ve been acting/performing/observing in this way for years—the work told me. The muse made her first appearance in Kitchen Table; this woman can stand in for me and for you; she can stand in for the audience, she leads you into history. She’s a witness and a guide. She changes slightly, depending on location. For instance, she operates differently in Cuba and Louisiana than in Rome. She’s shown me a great deal about the world and about myself, and I’m grateful to her. Carrying a tremendous burden, she is a black woman leading me through the trauma of history. I think it’s very important that as a black woman she’s engaged with the world around her; she’s engaged with history, she’s engaged with looking, with being. She’s a guide into circumstances seldom seen.”
– Weems, Carrie Mae Weems by Dawoud Bey, BOMB Magazine, 2009.
Almost two decades after the iconic 1990 shoot, Weems revisited the photographs in 2018 and selected this image to expand the series, printing it at a new larger size.
“It would be hard to overstate the impact of “The Kitchen Table Series” (1989-90), which combines panels of text and image to tell the story of a self-possessed woman with a “bodacious manner, varied talents, hard laughter, multiple opinions,” as it reads. It’s the series that made her career and inspired a new generation of artists who had never before seen a woman of color looking confidently out at them from a museum wall, and for whom Weems’s work represented the first time an African-American woman could be seen reflecting her own experience and interiority in her art.”
– Megan O’Grady, How Carrie Mae Weems Rewrote the Rules of Image-Making, T, The New York Times Style Magazine, 2018.
Editions of the above work are held in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AK; and the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA.
“I think the work in many ways is universal at its core, but we can certainly also use it to talk about the position of black representation. That was not the intent of making the work, but it can function in that way, and to talk about how photographs are constructed, since it uses the tropes of documentary but in highly constructed, staged images. We can use it to talk about the relationships between men and women, women and children, women and women, and to have large discussions about the issue of the representations of blacks and their relationships. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why the work has sort of stood the test of time and entered the culture in this unique way: You can use it to have many, many kinds of discussions about things that are going on in the world today.”
– Weems, Carrie Mae Weems Reflects on Her Seminal, Enduring Kitchen Table Series, W Magazine, 2016.
“My first recollections of Carrie’s work are of viewing parts of “The Kitchen Table Series” in 1994, at Thelma Golden’s critical “Black Male” exhibition at the Whitney. I can vividly remember the wave of excitement I felt as a young person laying eyes on those images, which were like nothing I had seen in my high school art history courses. All of the emotions embedded in that rich, mysterious project formed questions in my mind: Who was this artist, what were her motivations for picturing these characters and how could each individual photograph contain so much complexity?”
– Xaviera Simmons, 8 Artists on the Influence of Carrie Mae Weems, T, The New York Times Style Magazine, 2018.
“I don’t necessarily need the text with the photographs,” Weems says, “and I don’t necessarily need the photographs with the text, but nonetheless together they create an interesting dynamic and interplay.”
“The corresponding story, a cross between a bildungsroman and a beat poem, came to her, unplanned, about a month after she’d finished shooting. She had been talking to a friend, then embarked on a long drive and recited the words to herself in one sitting. “You circle around the idea, move around the idea and it doesn’t come home — and suddenly things start to click,” she says. “It seems to me that the most important thing an artist can do is to get out of the way of the work. The work tells you what it needs, where it needs to go; even if you don’t understand why, you should follow it. So to this extent, at a certain moment, the text seemed to come together effortlessly.” And so, “Kitchen Table” became an image-and-text piece. “I don’t necessarily need the text with the photographs,” Weems says, “and I don’t necessarily need the photographs with the text, but nonetheless together they create an interesting dynamic and interplay.”
– Hillary Moss, Revisiting Carrie Mae Weems’s Indelible Series — Almost Three Decades Later, T, The New York Times Style Magazine, 2016.
The original series in its entirety is in the permanent collection of The Cleveland Museum of Art, OH, and the Detroit Institute of Arts, MI, and can be viewed online.
Individual works from the series are held in institutions around the country, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, the Brooklyn Museum, NY, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.