Kenyon College

Untitled (Signifying Monkey)


Untitled (Signifying Monkey).1992-1993.
Edition of 10, 2 APs (#AP1).
37 1/2” x 25”.
© Carrie Mae Weems.
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.


Based on an old African-American folktale originating from the time of slavery, Weems’ Signifying Monkey brings attention to the African roots of Gullah culture. Weems studied the significance of folktales as a form of resistance while a graduate student in the Folklore program at UC Berkeley. The Monkey is an African-American incarnation of the West African Èşú, a trickster deity who controls the “crossroads” between life, the physical world, and death, the spirit world. Èşú became an important figure in African based religions practiced in the Americas during the time of slavery, and was looked upon as a popular form of subversion against oppressive white authority. Èşú’s transgressive influence is manifested through Monkey’s “signifying”. The message that the Monkey is conveying to the Lion is figurative and meant to disarm threat through the use of wily language. Signifying Monkey functions as a touchstone in the Sea Island Series, drawing attention to the power of language, and more specifically, folktales as a tactic of resistance. 

Dulce Montoya ‘14

Gund Gallery Associate