Since the 1980s, African-American artist Carrie Mae Weems has been using her work to negotiate the ‘black experience’ of discrimination and oppression. Mirror, Mirror bluntly addresses the racism anchored in social narratives which we pass on unquestioned to future generations – in ‘innocent’ fairy tales, for example. Grimm’s Snow White is the epitome of white supremacy: her fair, Caucasian skin colour mirrors the norm of (post-)colonial ideals of beauty that still prevail up to this day. This racist and sexist mentality also manifests itself in the male gaze symbolised by the mirror, which sexualises the female body and furthermore defines and ‘others’ the dark skin colour as a deviation from propagated beauty standards. Mirror, Mirror is a multi-layered and sharp critique of photography’s normative effect, which not only reinforces racism through stereotypical representations, but also through a media technique exploited by a colonialist agenda to ‘objectively testify’ to the inferiority of the black population – and for many years was technically unable to depict darker skin tones. The privileged, white gaze that stares at us from the mirror/camera continues to be the unquestioned norm, and deconstructing it remains a social desideratum even 30 years after Weems’ Mirror, Mirror.
More by Carrie Mae Weems: carriemaeweems.net