Community Impact: The Usual Suspects

By Brandi Simmons

 The August Third Thursday hosted select performances from “Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments” with New Venture Theatre.

The August Third Thursday hosted select performances from “Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments” with New Venture Theatre.

Exhibitions at LSU Museum of Art offer a window to explore different perspectives, providing an opportunity for introspection, conversation and reflection on our world at large. We often explore timely topics in our contemporary exhibitions, ranging from climate change through the allegorical paintings of Julie Heffernan to Debbie Fleming Caffery’s photography reflecting on Hurricane Katrina 10 years later. The art of Carrie Mae Weems: The Usual Suspects has also offered a window into contemporary challenges. Since opening on April 12, exhibition audiences have reflected and had meaningful dialogue with fellow community members.

Dialogue on Race Louisiana, who has had an ongoing partnership with LSU MOA, saw the exhibition as a valuable learning tool and partnered with Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to host a discussion on race and policing at the museum. Community organizers, law enforcement officials and criminal justice leaders participated in the three-week series with the intent of having a productive dialogue on ways to improve the relationship between law enforcement and the community it serves. One session included a gallery talk about Weems’ work.

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One participant in the series, Southern University Law Professor Russell Jones found the discussion and exhibition themes to be so meaningful that he brought it into his classroom.

“The Carrie Mae Weems exhibit, The Usual Suspects, is a very powerful demonstration of police brutality, and how race is a significant factor in policing and the use of excessive force,” Jones says. “The photographs and videos clearly depict the cultural and institutional racism that has defined the American criminal justice system. Requiring my Criminal Procedure class to attend the exhibit was a no brainer. Future attorneys and policy makers must be exposed to the entire story because they will play an essential role in ensuring that ‘justice for all’ is not an empty statement, but a reality for everyone.”

Tours paired with open discussion have not stopped there. In July, a group of teens and mentors with Big Buddy toured the exhibition, examining the difficult realities presented in the work and creating their own work in response. You can see the finished product on the walls of the museum today in the Young Artists Gallery.

 Drawing upon Weems’ imagery of the stereotyped hooded figure, Big Buddy participants learned how to screen print a similar image. Screen printing is a printmaking technique that allows an artist to create multiple identical images—a process that mimics the way stereotypical images are repeated and perpetuated. To complicate the image, students created a portrait of themselves using images and words to embrace their unique characteristics. The viewer is asked to look deeper—to pull back the flap and investigate beyond preconceived notions to become acquainted with each individual student.

Drawing upon Weems’ imagery of the stereotyped hooded figure, Big Buddy participants learned how to screen print a similar image. Screen printing is a printmaking technique that allows an artist to create multiple identical images—a process that mimics the way stereotypical images are repeated and perpetuated. To complicate the image, students created a portrait of themselves using images and words to embrace their unique characteristics. The viewer is asked to look deeper—to pull back the flap and investigate beyond preconceived notions to become acquainted with each individual student.

A final layer of this impact was seen at LSU MOA during the September 20 installment of Third Thursday, where a student-produced zine was released. Participants have provided first-person accounts and responses to the work on display, demonstrating not only how relevant the exhibition’s themes are for our community but also how productive the pairing of art and dialogue can be in expressing those difficult topics. (See a photo series from LSU alums Justin Tyler Bryant and Christopher Burns here.)

After closing on October 14, Carrie Mae Weems: The Usual Suspects will be offered to academic museums and galleries for tour through 2022.


Carrie Mae Weems: The Usual Suspects is a collaboration between the LSU College of Art & Design, the LSU School of Art and LSU Museum of Art. Support for this exhibition is provided by The Winifred and Kevin P. Reilly Jr. Fund with additional support from Annual Exhibition Fund donors: The Imo N. Brown Memorial Fund in memory of Heidel Brown and Mary Ann Brown; Louisiana CAT; Charles Schwing; Alma Lee, H.N. and Cary Saurage Fund; Newton B. Thomas Family/Newtron Group; LSU College of Art & Design; and Susanna Atkins McCarthy.


Brandi Simmons is LSU MOA’s communications coordinator.