In the early 1990s, Carrie Mae Weems explored the culture of the Gullah in her Sea Island series. The Gullah are a people living on islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina whose ancestors were African captives brought to America during the antebellum period. The two photographs from the series in Krannert Art Museum's collection show the exterior and interior of a praise house, a modest building devoted to religious and other community purposes. Weems notes the mix of the spiritual and the banal in the structure. In one image, a mouthwash bottle serves as a container for blessing and healing oil. In the other, a hand-painted sign identifies the building and visually balances an electricity meter and climbing vine on the façade.
The straightforward images testify to the Gullah's rich spiritual life, which has persevered through the ordeal of slavery and ensuing chronic poverty. Weems disrupts the spatial coherence of the interior view with mirrors that insert the disorienting reflections of the room to the left and a man casually waiting to the right. In the exterior shot, she places the motif slightly off-center and leaves a plain strip of road across the foreground, suggesting the modesty and grace of the community.
Text by David O'Brien, from Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008