Carrie Mae Weems Installation Highlights COVID-19’s Impact on Communities of Color

August 11, 2020

This month, renowned artist Carrie Mae Weems brings her public art project, Resist Covid Take 6!, to University of the Arts and the city of Philadelphia. The project highlights how the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately harmed Black, Latinx and Native American communities. As the exclusive presenters of this project in Philadelphia, UArts brings Weems’ work to the city through a combination of billboards, creative messages, public art projects and more. Resist Covid Take 6! at University of the Arts is generously supported by the Jessica Hamilton Hardy Visiting Artist Fund. 

Weems conceived of the project with Pierre Loving earlier this year, when she was an artist-in-residence at Syracuse University. The project encourages the general public to “Take 6,” or practice social distancing by maintaining six feet of distance, in addition to promoting safety in Black and Brown communities through health education. With the pandemic effecting these communities in large numbers, Weems commented in an interview with Artnet that the U.S. has an “unprecedented opportunity to address the impact of social and economic inequality in real time.” 

The exhibition’s focus on racial inequalities in healthcare is timely for Philadelphia, where the pandemic has had a dramatic effect on Black communities. In an article for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Frank Kummer and Sarah Gantz cite data showing that of the 6,128 Philadelphia residents who have been hospitalized for COVID-19, 60 percent are Black. Weems addresses these issues directly, creating accessible visuals to educate Philadelphians on the distinct way the pandemic affects Black communities. Phase 1 of the project brings public art installations to UArts’ Center City campus at four locations on Broad Street and the Art Alliance on Rittenhouse Square, while Phase 2 will involve an expansion throughout the city. 

“If there was ever a time for universities, museums and cultural institutions to be in direct dialogue with the communities they serve, the time is now,” Weems said. “UArts’ willingness to embrace this project underscores its profound understanding of this extraordinary moment.”

When asked about bringing the project to Philadelphia specifically, she said: “For obvious reasons, Philadelphia is one of our greatest American cities, and to have the support of University in the Arts as a partner in bringing this critical message to the public cannot be overstated. Led by President David Yager, UArts has rolled out a brilliant campaign, of which we can all be proud.”

President Yager adds, “As soon as I read about this work, I knew UArts had to be involved. The choice to expand Carrie’s work was immediate. I feel we as an arts university have a specific role and an obligation to use the arts to heighten awareness of this crisis and especially its disproportionate impact on communities of color. 

“As a longtime supporter of Carrie’s work, I knew partnering with her to create a platform in Philly for her project was a no-brainer, and we are so pleased to launch the first of what we hope will be many phases of her work throughout the city.” 

A recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship in 2013—also known as the “genius award”—Weems is one of the most influential artists in the U.S. In addition to being the first Black woman to have a retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, she has received awards such as the Prix de Rome, the Frida Kahlo Award for Innovative Creativity and the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal, among other honors. Her work is exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Tate Modern, the Walker Art Center, the Whitney Museum of American Art and countless other institutions. 

Phase 1 of the installation at University began Aug. 1 and will be completed by Aug. 12. The university is currently seeking partners to expand the project into Phase 2. Those interested should contact Shelton Walker, chief of staff and associate VP for strategic initiatives, at shwalker@uarts.edu

For updates on the project and to learn more about UArts’ involvement, visit uarts.edu/resistcovid