From the moment she unwrapped the birthday gift containing her first camera, Weems began making art driven by her desire to better understand the present through a close examination of history and identity.
Long considered one of America’s most influential artists, Weems is the first African-American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum. She employs images, video, text, and fabric in solo and group artworks that investigate family relationships, cultural identity, sexism, class, political systems, violence, and the consequences of power.
In his review of the Guggenheim’s 30-year survey of her work, Holland Cotter of the New York Times described Weems as “a superb image maker and a moral force, focused, and irrepressible.”
From her seminal work “The Kitchen Table Series” (1990) to last year’s stunning photo collaboration with Mary J. Blige for W magazine, Weems rethinks the way African-Americans, especially women, are portrayed. The world’s major museums and galleries show and collect her work, and her page-long list of honors includes the prestigious Prix de Roma, a medal of arts from the US State Department, a $625,000 MacArthur “genius grant,” and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Weems was born in Portland in 1953. She began her career as an artist at 11 as a participant in dance and street theater. As a teenager, she studied modern dance with Ana Halprin, John Cage, and Robert Morris. In her early 20s, she became active politically as a union organizer. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the California Institute of the Arts and a Master’s of Fine Arts from the University of California, San Diego.
In nominating Weems for an honorary degree, associate professor of art Amanda Wojick said:
"Her luminous photographs, often of women in exquisitely composed interior and exterior settings, are breathtakingly powerful ruminations of intimacy, history, identity, and connection. To view her work is to enter into an arresting visual experience that is complex and deeply moving. I first encountered Carrie Mae Weems’ work as a student in the nineties, and she has long been an inspiration to me as an artist. She is especially deserving of an honorary degree from the University of Oregon at this moment, given her sustained and eloquent engagement with difficult questions of race, class, and the politics of living in America."
Upon approval by the board and acceptance by Weems, President Schill hopes that she will be able to visit campus during the coming academic year to accept her honorary doctorate and engage with students, faculty, and the community.
Lokey is chair emeritus and founder of Business Wire, the international media relations wire service, which he sold to Berkshire Hathaway in 2006. Since then, the Stanford University graduate has invested more than $800 million to advance learning, beginning with the school he attended as a child, Portland’s Alameda Elementary.
An early signer of The Giving Pledge — a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to donate most of their wealth — Lokey has given away about 98 percent of his lifetime earnings, mainly to help launch or transform leading teaching and research programs, particularly in fields related to biomedical research. Several major universities in the U.S. and Israel, including the UO, are pursuing discoveries that hold great promise for improving human health and the environment as the result of Lokey’s generosity.
At 90, the native Oregonian frequently describes himself as feeling privileged to be in the position to provide such generous support, explaining, “Those of us giving grants are really betting on the kids of the future — we want them to do better than we did.”
Through his gifts, Lokey purposefully creates human connections that transcend national borders. Richard H. Jones, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, has said Lokey’s financial support of research and teaching collaborations among universities have helped “strengthen the ties between Israel and the U.S.”
At the UO alone, Lokey’s giving exceeds $150 million and enhances the educational experience of every student. He enthusiastically jump-started numerous building projects ranging from new science buildings, among them the Lorry I. Lokey Laboratories and the award-winning Allan Price Science Commons and Research Library to expansion of the School of Music and Dance and renovation of the College of Education’s historic quad. In addition to establishing the UO Fund for Faculty Excellence, he also has made extensive commitments supporting the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact.
Professors Bill Cresko and James Hutchison nominated Lokey for the honorary degree.
In making the nomination, Cresko, a professor of biology and associate vice president for research, said:
“In Yiddish, someone is a mensch if they are a person of integrity and honor. Because of the unyielding support that Lorry has provided his adopted University of Oregon family over many, many years, I can think of no better honor than to say that Lorry is truly a mensch. He did not need to provide the resources to better educate thousands of students, to enhance our research infrastructure, and to honor our top faculty, but Lorry did. For that I and many of the rest of the U of O family are forever grateful.’”
Hutchison, the Lokey-Harrington Chair in Chemistry, said:
“Lorry is an entrepreneur with the curiosity of a scientist and the heart of a poet. From his generous financial investments sprang forth a period of discovery, innovation, and achievement unimaginable before he befriended our campus. Although he was never a student here, the student experience at our university, and our ability to serve Oregonians and the world, are forever enriched because Lorry decided to become our champion.”
Upon approval by the board and acceptance by Lokey, he would accept his honorary doctorate during the UO’s 142nd commencement on Monday, June 18.