Carrie Mae Weems, Remember to Dream, 2020. Silk Screen print on rag paper, 23 x 28 in.
Earlier this week, the artist Carrie Mae Weems picked up the phone on her drive to work, which was taking a bit longer than expected. “Normally, I just take my one, direct route to my studio, and today I just decided to do something else,” she said, laughing. “I had, like, five detours this morning. I just can’t seem to get to where I want to go. Maybe this means I should have kept my ass at home.”
It’s on commutes like hers that she hopes people will come across some of her new artwork, the latest defiantly political gesture in a career defined by them. Starting in October, billboards and signs designed by Weems and a collective of artists that includes Hank Willis Thomas, LaToya Ruby Frazier and Ed Ruscha will spring up along thoroughfares in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—all key swing states in the 2020 presidential election. The core message being sent by each one of them, in their own ways: “ENOUGH of Trump.”
The initiative, spearheaded by Weems and organized by the advocacy group People For the American Way, aims to encourage people to vote with a simple, galvanizing word, originally conceived of by Norman Lear, who founded PFAW. “It’s really a cumulative effect working multiple ways of something, weaving it through various items, over various mediums, platforms. That’s really the key. It’s not something that’s about finding one billboard in one neighborhood. It has to be really built on something that’s more systemic,” Weems said. “And hopefully it’s through that that we start to beg the question, ‘Have you had enough?’ And if you had enough, then it’s time to remove Trump from the White House.”
A Kickstarter campaign exceeded the fundraising goal of $40,000 in 15 minutes, and has since reached over $150,000 in donations, meaning the scope of the project will likely expand further. (It probably helped that rewards for backers included limited-edition signed prints by Weems, Ruscha, Shepard Fairey and Richard Serra.) Weems has also released canvas tote bags reading “ENOUGH!! DUMP TRUMP VOTE 2020” to benefit the project.
Given the very public nature of these artworks, is there anything that she’s concerned about—vandalism, or perhaps inflammatory reactions from conservative media? “No, I’m rarely worried about those kinds of things. I always see things as being just things,” Weems said. “We should never be afraid of opposition. We should never be afraid that someone might take offense, or that someone might have a different set of ideas and opinions in a relationship. That’s what democracy is.”
Any real concerns she has are much deeper than that: “I think one of the things that we do have to worry about that is insidious and dangerous is the stoking of fear, by this president himself, among the ultra-right,” she said. She pointed to the fact that one of the first things President Trump said about Kamala Harris after the announcement that she would be Joe Biden’s running mate was that she was “nasty.”
“I think there’s going to be some ugly stuff rearing its head this October and November as we get down to the finish line. The gloves are off. Nationalists are determined to maintain power, and progressives are determined to keep them out,” she said. “And the idea that we’re dealing with lies around the post office is threatening, confusing the post office and the mail to deliver ballots. We should all be more outraged, and we should already be infuriated, because this man is going to use every strategy he has not to leave the White House.”
As for Weems’ own views on Harris, she expressed some trepidation. “She wasn’t my first choice, frankly. Of course, it’s historic by any measure. It’s historic and wonderful, I think that the meaning of it cannot be overstated,” Weems said. “I’m very excited for her. I’ll send her a note, absolutely, and a tote bag,” she added, laughing. “She’s gotta have one black, one white.”
Weems would have wanted a Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren ticket, she said, but she remains hopeful for the future. “One day, if we can get beyond race, then I think we’ve got a real shot at this project called democracy.”
Before hanging up and heading into her studio, Weems left us with one final statement. “If we want to hold onto the progress that we’ve made and then push that progress forward, I think this campaign around notions of enough really does matter,” she said. “We’re at a crossroads in this country, and I think we all have had enough of many, many different things. Norman was absolutely right when he used that word to galvanize it.”