Carrie Mae Weems on March 10 was named the winner of the 2023 Hasselblad Award, becoming the first Black woman in history to win the prize, which includes 2 million Swedish kronor (US $189,000). The honor is considered one of the most prestigious prizes awarded in recognition of a living photographer. Past recipients include Nan Goldin, Miyako Ishiuchi, Graciela Iturbide, Alfredo Jaar, Cindy Sherman, Dayanita Singh, and Wolfgang Tillmans. Weems will receive the award in a ceremony to take place in Gothenburg, Sweden, on October 13; that same day, the Hasselblad center will launch an exhibition of her work, to be accompanied by a publication.
The Portland, Oregon–born Weems studied modern dance before turning to photography in her twenties. Through a practice encompassing installation, film, performance, and photography, she investigates issues surrounding politics, feminism, and African American identity, in works that variously center personal experience and historical archives. Her pathbreaking 1990 “Kitchen Table Series” features the photographer herself, sitting before the titular piece of furniture while various other subjects come and go, exhibiting and evoking a range of attitudes as they variously perform different actions, such as smoking, drinking, playing cards, and applying makeup. In series such as “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried” (1995–96) and “The Hampton Project” (2000), Weems placed photographs she found in the archives of museums and universities in conversation with her own work to comment on the history of racism in photography as well as on the emotional lives of the previously overlooked historical subjects.
In a press release, the Hasselblad Foundation lauded Weems for anticipating “salient issues of our time – the struggle for racial equality and human rights – with unflinching visual and ethical force, with an “artistic practice [that] is inherently activist, poignant, and lyrical.”
Weems in a statement noted, “In the midst of the radical shifts taking place across cultural institutions, and as the first African American woman to receive the Hasselblad Award, some might say, ‘it’s about time!’ Nevertheless, receiving the Hasselblad Award has left me speechless,” she continued. “To be recognized comes with the continued responsibility to deliver on the promise made to myself and to the field, which is to shine a light into the darker corners of our time and thereby, with a sense of grace and humility, illuminate a path forward.”