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Meet Carrie Mae Weems, the artist who first fought back against the male gaze.

"You have to make what you want to see in the world. That is basically your obligation if you're an artist."

Meet Carrie Mae Weems, the artist who first fought back against the male gaze.

When photographer Carrie Ann Weems didn't see herself represented in the art world, she took it upon herself to create that representation.

Image by Carrie Mae Weems, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

The 63-year-old artist opened up about her important career in a recent Lenny interview, explaining that her black-and-white photos — especially her simple yet incredibly powerful "Kitchen Table Series," completed in 1990 — portrayed her as she wants to be seen, not how others wanted her to be seen.


In her photos, Weems is in charge, representing her life as she sees fit. It's a beautiful example of self-expression.

She explains in the interview:

"I realized at a certain moment that I could not count on white men to construct images of myself that I would find appealing or useful or meaningful or complex. I can't count on anybody else but me to deliver on my own promise to myself. I love Fellini. I love Woody Allen. I love the Coen brothers, but they're not interested in my black ass."

​Image by Carrie Mae Weems, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

"I needed to speak to and across the ways in which women had been discussed in film, theater, and photography. I needed to speak of representation and systems."

Weems is most famous for challenging the dreaded male gaze with her photos.

She noticed that men took photos of themselves that were "deeply frontal," while women were often turned to the side in photographs, or had some of their face obscured. So she made the choice to represent herself in her work face-on, something that had rarely been done before by a woman. She tediously set up a camera, processed and printed the film, figured out what she had done wrong, and did it all over again the next day.

In her work, especially the "Kitchen Table" series, you can see her vulnerably revealing itself — in her kitchen and beyond. Weems makes a powerful statement about being present, fearless, and in control in her art.

Eventually, her work set a new standard for visual storytelling by exploring subjectivity in both domestic spaces and public spaces.

Weems isn't alone in her struggle to find herself represented as a woman in the world, especially in art and especially as a woman of color.

Other renowned female artists have joined Weems in this fight throughout the years, famously taking control of representation by making themselves the subjects of their work, too.

Cindy Sherman, for example, famously transforms herself into people from all walks of life — male or female. She relies solely on herself to create these images that challenge us to think about class, race, and gender. Marina Abramović, often referred to as the "grandmother of performance art," is also known for her gutsy risks in the art world, like her project "The Artist Is Present" where she sat across from strangers for hours at a time, sharing silence with them.

These women continually push the boundaries of what it means to be a female artist today. They are meticulous and deliberate, while constructing images of their reality as a woman in the world. There's no hiding behind their work because most of the time, they are their work.

​Image by Carrie Mae Weems, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Carrie Mae Weems boldly laid the groundwork for female artists today.

"I always thought about the pictures of myself as not necessarily of myself but as an entity, a form that could express something that needed to be expressed," she told Lenny.

She created a platform for unapologetic honesty and empowerment, and we can never have too much of that.

I often take for granted how easily I can take a selfie and send a depiction of myself out into the world. But that hasn't always been the case. When Weems started working, she was intentional and precise. She wanted women everywhere to be seen for who they really were. She was a bold risk-taker. And she changed things in a big way.

This is what happens when you stand up for yourself in a world that doesn't seem to have room for you. It's risky. It's terrifying. But it's worth it. Thank you for your boldness, Carrie!

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Some 75 years ago, in bombed-out Frankfurt, Germany, a little girl named Marlene Mahta received a sign of hope in the midst of squalor, homelessness and starvation. A CARE Package containing soap, milk powder, flour, blankets and other necessities provided a lifeline through the contributions of average American families. There were even luxuries like chocolate bars.

World War II may have ended, but its devastation lingered. Between 35 and 60 million people died. Whole cities had been destroyed, the countryside was charred and burned, and at least 60 million European civilians had been made homeless. Hunger remained an issue for many families for years to come. In the face of this devastation, 22 American organizations decided to come together and do something about it: creating CARE Packages for survivors.

"What affected me… was hearing that these were gifts from average American people," remembers Mahta, who, in those desperate days, found herself picking through garbage cans to find leftover field rations and MREs to eat. Inspired by the unexpected kindness, Mahta eventually learned English and emigrated to the U.S.

"I wanted to be like those wonderful, generous people," she says.

The postwar Marshall Plan era was a time of "great moral clarity," says Michelle Nunn, CEO of CARE, the global anti-poverty organization that emerged from those simple beginnings. "The CARE Package itself – in its simplicity and directness – continues to guide CARE's operational faith in the enduring power of local leadership – of simply giving people the opportunity to support their families and then their communities."

Each CARE Package contained rations that had once been reserved for soldiers, but were now being redirected to civilians who had suffered as a result of the conflict. The packages cost $10 to send, and they were guaranteed to arrive at their destination within four months.

Thousands of Americans, including President Harry S. Truman, got involved, and on May 11, 1946, the first 15,000 packages were sent to Le Havre in France, a port badly battered during the war.

Thousands of additional CARE Packages soon followed. At first packages were sent to specific recipients, but over time donations came in for anyone in need. When war rations ran out American companies began donating food. Later, carpentry tools, blankets, clothes, books, school supplies, and medicine were included.

Before long, the CARE Packages were going to other communities in need around the world, including Asia and Latin America. Ultimately, CARE delivered packages to 100 million families around the world.

The original CARE Packages were phased out in the late 1960s, though they were revived when specific needs arose, such as when former Soviet Union republics needed relief, or after the Bosnian War. Meanwhile, CARE transformed. Now, instead of physical boxes, it invests in programs for sustainable change, such as setting up nutrition centers, Village Savings and Loan Associations, educational programs, agroforestry initiatives, and much more.

But, with a pandemic ravaging populations around the world, CARE is bringing back its original CARE packages to support the critical basic needs of our global neighbors. And for the first time, they're also delivering CARE packages here at home in the United States to communities in need.

Community leaders like Janice Dixon are on the front lines of that effort. Dixon, president and CEO of Community Outreach in Action in Jonesboro, Ga., now sends up to 80 CARE packages each week to those in need due to COVID-19. Food pantries have been available, she notes, but they've been difficult to access for those without cars, and public transportation is spotty in suburban Atlanta.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook," says Dixon. For example, one of those calls was from a senior diabetic, she remembers, who faced an impossible choice, but was able to purchase medicine because food was being provided by CARE.

Today, CARE is sending new packages with financial support and messages of hope to frontline medical workers, caregivers, essential workers, and individuals in need in more than 60 countries, including the U.S. Anyone can now go to carepackage.org to send targeted help around the world. Packages focus on helping vaccines reach people more quickly, tackling food insecurity, educational disparities, global poverty, and domestic violence, as well as providing hygiene kits to those in need.

From the very beginning, CARE received the support of presidents, with Hollywood luminaries like Rita Hayworth and Ingrid Bergman also adding their voices. At An Evening With CARE, happening this Tuesday, May 11, notable names will turn out again as the organization celebrates the 75th Anniversary of the CARE Package and the exciting, meaningful work that lies ahead. The event will be hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and attended by former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, as well as Angela Merkel, Iman, Jewel, Michelle Williams, Katherine McPhee-Foster, Betty Who and others. Please RSVP now for this can't-miss opportunity.

On February 19, 2020, a group of outdoor adventurists took a 25-day rafting trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. During the trip, they had no cell service and no contact with the outside world. When they ended they ended their journey on March 14, the man who pulled them ashore asked if they had been in touch with anyone else. When the rafters said no, the man sighed, then launched into an explanation of how the globe had been gripped by the coronavirus pandemic and everything had come to a screeching halt.

The rafters listened with bewilderment as they were told about toilet paper shortages and the NBA season being canceled and everyone being asked to stay at home. One of the river guides, who had done these kinds of off-grid excursions multiple times, said that they'd often joke about coming back to a completely different world—it had just never actually happened before.

The rafters' story was shared in the New York Times last spring, but they're not the only ones to have had such an experience.

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
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The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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