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It’s no secret that Covid-19 is deadly, or that internationally celebrated photographer Carrie Mae Weems is sounding the alarm about how the pandemic is disproportionately impacting the lives of Black, Brown and Native American communities. Her website messaging is clear, “COVID-19 is not an equal-opportunity virus, it’s a double tragedy for people-of-color communities.”

Her RESIST COVID TAKE 6! is a multi-city public art initiative designed to bring awareness to recommended safety steps in these communities and to provide messaging as gratitude to essential workers who put themselves in harm’s way. 

“We’ve all been impacted by Covid-19,” Weems says. “It’s an ecological health crisis of epic proportion — an international disaster. The death tolls in these communities are staggering. This fact affords the nation an unprecedented opportunity to address the impact of social and economic inequality in real time. Denial does not solve a problem.” 

SCAD partnered with Weems this past summer to bring RESIST COVID TAKE 6! to  Savannah and Atlanta. Weems’ billboards, bus-shelter signs and hand fans feature black-and-white photography with messages including: “Don’t worry, we’ll hold hands again,” “Covid-19 is not a joke” and “Sadly, you are the most impacted by Covid-19,” followed by a list of deaths by city or state. Atlanta ranks a dubious first at 80%.

Carrie Mae Weems

Carrie Mae Weems’ “RESIST COVID TAKE 6!” series is on view around Atlanta this month. (Photo by Jerry Klineberg)

RESIST COVID-19 TAKE 6! joins the ELEVATE Atlanta public art festival this week (through Saturday). ELEVATE is digital this year — blame Covid — with dance, poetry and film screenings, musical performances and community conversations. Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, an art historian and director of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, will host a talk with Weems and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms at 6:30 p.m. Thursday (October 8).

“This year’s ELEVATE theme is ‘equity, activism, engagement’ and Carrie Mae Weems’ RESIST COVID TAKE 6! campaign fits perfectly,” says ELEVATE curator Leatrice Ellzy Wright, who’s executive director of Hammonds House Museum. “We are  trying to inform, engage and ultimately keep the most vulnerable in our communities safe. We felt it was an important addition to our festival schedule, and an opportunity to illustrate how art can impact our lives.”

ELEVATE is based in Atlanta’s historic West End neighborhood this year. It has 20 “bus kings” (exterior signage on the sides of buses) and banners at the Mall West End. Should you travel through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, you’ll see digital ads that are rolling through October 24. 

For more than 30 years, Weems’ work has influenced discourse on family relationships, cultural identity, sexism, class, political systems and the consequences of power via photographs, text, fabric, audio, digital images, installation and video. 

The “RESIST COVID-19 TAKE 6!” project was displayed in Atlanta over the summer as part of a SCAD program and will travel to other major U.S. cities. (Photo courtesy of SCAD)

RESIST COVID TAKE 6! is the latest part of Weems’ Social Studies 101 Project. Her other public-art campaigns included Billboard Project 2017, digital billboards that spoke to and about underserved populations in Syracuse, New York, and Grace Notes: Reflections for Now, staged spoken word, music, projected video and dance that commemorated the deaths of young Black men like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. 

RESIST COVID/Take 6! promotes community action online, including the ability to sign an oath pledging responsible action, and offering downloadable fliers to share on social media. 

Weems’ Covid project launched in Syracuse, where she’s Syracuse University’s artist-in-residence, and is showing up in such cities as Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

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