Born Ypsilanti, MI,1990 / BFA Eastern Michigan University; MFA Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Ypsilanti
To enter the photography of Ricky Weaver, first, take a breath. Hold it. Feel it. Float with it. Exhale.
This instruction steadies you for the type of meditation experienced when observing Weaver’s quiet but complex image-making. There’s a spiritual essence felt as the artist unpacks concepts of time, identity and lineage through photographs that pay homage to Black women who have come before, are with her today, and are of the next generation. Stylistically, her salute to them comes by way of the gold trim that frames each image (a tribute to her late grandmother’s black and gold-framed bedroom set) and quoted titles of her images, because, as the artist says of her work, “This is collective; it’s not just me.”
Weaver is concerned with form and aesthetics, but is especially interested in the image as a way of collecting histories, and the body as a resource to create, transmit and disseminate an archive of the everyday.
In “Having on the breastplate of righteousness” (2019) and “shod my feet in the preparation of the gospel of peace” (2019), she contemplates Ephesians 6:11-15, biblical passages about putting on the Armor of God and gaining the ability to stand against evils. Since becoming a mother, Weaver prays over her children habitually – something her aunt instilled in her. Here, meditation resides in when and where that preparation for donning armor takes place.
Breathing 1 (2020), evokes Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ poetry and prose triptych M Archive: After the End of The World, a “speculative documentary” where she offers lessons on being, breathing and creating through a Black feminist metaphysics lens. The collapsed imagery in Breathing pulls attention toward the diaphragm and the energy held within the core, bringing to mind the significance of a mantra in Gumbs’ work that resonates with Weaver’s thoughts on releasing heaviness in the body and making space for something to happen: “breathing is burning and burning is beautiful.” These pictorial guides act as sensory maps and are Weaver’s way of articulating, “Yo, this is how we get free.”
Collectively, the three images investigate flight and evoke the idea of not being tethered to one specific place. This too is a mental exploration for Weaver – freedom as a practice, as opposed to a state of being.
Grief is another undertone in Weaver’s image-making, though not in a way that stifles physical or psychological movement, but pushes forward to inquire, reimagine and reconsider ways to navigate the earthly realm. The self-portrait ‘Untitled’ (on the floor) (2017), may draw the viewer in by its vibrancy and the universal modus operandi When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. However, Weaver’s use of lemons (used in a grounding technique for dissociative identity disorder), the hair weave cap on the floor, and the detached gaze allude to a feeling of disconnection. This makes the psychology of the “Happy” tattoo on her wrist even more interesting when considering the context. “I was sad and chose to write what I wanted to be,” she says. “I’m in a perpetual state of grief. It’s a comfort space for me [and] I try to produce something out of [that].”
A frantic period while working on Weaver’s graduate thesis produced “Amazing Grace” (2018), a portrait of her grandmother, nearing her 103rd birthday. Weaver amplifies the intense gaze in the image with blazing words by bell hooks: “Not only will I stare. I want my look to change reality.“
The passing of her grandmother in 2018 ignited a wanting to understand death in a different capacity. She envisioned a portal and had a recollection of being in church as a little girl and hearing, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” This was the impetus in creating “Shall not perish but have everlasting life” (2020). Weaver used dirt, plexiglass and dried lavender to create a grave-like installation that symbolized her grandmother’s transition. Making this portal perhaps eases the soul with the notion that though the physical body is gone, the spirit lives on.
“If energy cannot be created or destroyed then it is being transformed. I wanted to offer a way to think about that. We continue to lose so many people,” Weaver says. “They’re not gone. They’re still here, elsewhere or maybe where we’re trying to go.”
There’s a constant unfolding of layers in Weaver’s photographs, where visual language is informed by blood memory. These become breadcrumbs toward pathways to free. “It’s not a linear thing.” Weaver takes a beat. “It’s beautiful.”
LaToya Cross, January 2021