“The work is about life. It’s about experience. It’s not about academics and it’s not about theory. And it’s not about processing out who you are. It’s very much about personal experience. And so if I want to talk about personal experience and I have to talk to those people who are interested in that and who live it. Not people who are interested in it, but those who live their experience. You know, those who don’t use theory as a sort of chart or gauge by which to monitor their lives.” -Carrie Mae Weems
Conjure Women highlights the work and careers of four African-American female artists: choreographer Anita Gonzalez, performance artist Robbie McCauley, photographer Carrie Mae Weems, and singer Cassandra Wilson. The film explores the complex identity of African-Americans and the positionality of women within this identity. Each woman portrays African American culture in arenas it which is hasn’t typically been acknowledged. Their work is a way to teach, but also to find their place within and connection to the community from which they originate. For example, Anita Gonzalez performs a piece about handling African-American’s hai, emphasizing attempts to suppress kinky curls in favor of straight hair or braids. The performance not only becomes a look at black hair, but also at what African-American women do in order to feel beautiful, no matter how damaging the process.
Each artist uses her work to explore the African diaspora on a global level. African-American women’s experiences are connected to men’s, but the distinctions are often not tackled. These four women are striving to tell the narrative surrounding African-American women by reclaiming their history and the stories of their families. They are keeping African-American history and traditions alive, while modernizing them to inform the current generation. Conjure Women is a beautiful documentary exploring the experience of not just African-American women, but all women. Unfortunately, the documentary hasn’t received the attention it deserves, but each artist featured is well established and easy to explore individually.