Looking back to look forward

Creative Artwork by Boston College Students

What does “looking back to look forward” mean to you?

In talking about her work, currently on display in the McMullen Museum, artist Carrie Mae Weems notes:

There’s this really great saying that within seriousness there is very little room for play, but within play there is tremendous room for seriousness. And so I’m trying to figure out these sort of platforms on which to play, and to play with historical figures and to play with historical circumstance that allow for me to engage the world in a very abstracted form in order to get at something that is more deeply realized. I’m an artist but I’m interested in the historical past, as well as the historical present and how the past has a kind of hold on the present, how it shapes us.

Looking back to look forward is a project inviting BC students to submit digital works of art that explore personal interpretations of “looking back to look forward,” be it literally or figuratively. The McMullen Museum invites you to take full creative freedom in interpreting this phrase and looks forward to seeing and displaying your work(s) in the Museum.

About Looking back to look forward

Looking back to look forward is an ongoing participatory project inviting Boston College students to explore the concept, effects, and/or personal experiences of history and memory on the present through various creative formats. Submissions will be displayed on a monitor in the McMullen Museum Atrium and on the Museum’s digital publication the Terrace through December 13, 2018.

Looking back to look forward is organized in association with the exhibition, Carrie Mae Weems: Strategies of Engagement, on display in the Daley Family and Monan Galleries from September 10–December 13, 2018.

Carrie Mae Weems: Strategies of Engagement examines this eminent American artist’s diverse and innovative career through both celebrated and rarely exhibited projects made during the last thirty years. The exhibition focuses on the relational aspect of Weems’s art, recreating original installations in which viewers wander among suspended images on translucent fabric, enveloped by the artist’s audio narration, or stand confronted with video and photographic works that expose systems of power and injustice. The resulting immersion in moments of global and historical struggle prepares viewers for a more engaged discussion of American history through such difficult issues as violence, survival, and the need for radical social change. Entering that territory with Weems, visitors have an experience that is intellectually and ethically challenging, sometimes imbued with melancholy seriousness, sometimes with playful or ominous wit, and occasionally with unexpected moments of hope and grace.

Strategies of Engagement interrogates artwork growing out of Weems’s critical explorations of history; a focus that is powerfully relevant in the context of current activism around racial equality and social justice. In addition to several of Weems’s most acclaimed series, including From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried, the exhibition features the extraordinary Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me, a theatrical video installation that incorporates the nineteenth-century “Pepper’s Ghost” effect, and the recently created All the Boys, Usual Suspects, and People of a Darker Hue dealing with police violence.

Carrie Mae Weems has spent over three decades honing her craft, producing a unique body of work that is aesthetically and politically powerful. Particularly in her engagement with African American history she has developed a complex series of strategies, moving beyond a witnessing of the past to more active interventions: appropriating and transforming verbal and visual archives; negotiating with the persistent effects of stereotyping; and animating history in the present as a constructed performance. Weems’s relationship to her viewers is at once pedagogical, confrontational, and collaborative as she engages them in ongoing debates about power and resistance, history and identity, and racial, gender, and class discrimination. In Strategies of Engagement, Weems invites visitors to participate in numerous ways: through physical, emotional, and intellectual engagement with the works, through education and activism, and, perhaps most uniquely, through bodily engagement with history and the bodies of others, a practice she models in photographs and video.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue with scholarly essays from the diverse perspectives of art history, literature, race and gender studies, education, sociology, and history.

Organized by the McMullen Museum, Strategies of Engagement has been curated by Robin Lydenberg and Ash Anderson. Major support has been provided by the Patrons of the McMullen Museum and Robert (’63) and Ann Marie Reardon (P ’91).

Official Submission Rules

  • Entrants must currently be enrolled at Boston College at the undergraduate or graduate level.
  • All submissions should be submitted via the Submission Form on theterracebc.com.
  • While creative formats can include photography, poetry, painting, creative writing, graphic design, sculpture, video, and more, all submissions must be in one of the following formats:
    • .jpeg
    • .png
    • .jpg
    • .gif
    • .mp4
    • .doc or .docx
  • Because the Museum will be using a high definition monitor, we request that all images and videos be HD quality (at least 1920 x 1080 px).
  • For display in the McMullen Museum Atrium, videos should be limited to 5 minutes or less. Longer videos should be publically hosted on YouTube or Vimeo and will be displayed on the Terrace only.
  • There is no limit to the number of submissions each student may make.
  • All submissions that comply with these instructions will be posted online at: theterracebc.com and on the monitor in the McMullen Museum.
  • By sending a submission to the Looking back to look forward project, entrants grant the McMullen Museum of Art permission to display their submission online and in the McMullen Museum without compensation.
  • Entrants may post an unlimited number of submissions via Instagram with the hashtags: #lookingbacktolookforward and #theTerraceBC; however, in order for works to be displayed at the McMullen and on the Terrace, official submissions must be submitted online via theterracebc.com.
  • The McMullen Museum reserves the right to disqualify entries that do not conform to the stated rules and guidelines, as well as those that intend to cause harm or disparage others. It is the entrant’s responsibility to ensure that he/she has complied with these Official Submission Rules.

Ready to submit? Click here to go to the official  Submission Form.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I participate?

Take a photo or a video, or write up your submission and upload it on via the Submission Form page on the Terrace. While the format is limited to digital works, you are entitled to creative freedom in how you interpret “looking back to look forward.” Works do not need to be purely documentary or literal; they may be more figurative and/or abstract. For example, you may include abstract forms, text, and/or sound clips in your work(s) if you’d like. You can also post an unlimited number of submissions via Instagram with the hashtag, #lookingbacktolookforward. In order for your works to be displayed on the Terrace and in the McMullen Museum, however, you will need to officially submit your works to the Museum via the online submission form. Please see the “Official Submission Rules” above.

  • How long will the McMullen accept submissions?

Looking back to look forward will accept submissions until December 7, 2018; however, the works will remain on display through the end of the exhibition Carrie Mae Weems: Strategies of Engagement, which closes on December 13, 2018.

  • Can I submit more than one work?

You are welcome to submit as many as you’d like!

  • How closely do I need to follow the questions in the prompt?

The prompt was provided to inspire creativity and get you thinking about “looking back to look forward.” We understand that this phrase engenders all manner of interpretations. Thus, please feel free to interpret it in your own way.

  • Is there a limit to the length of the title or accompanying statement?

Titles should remain under 25 words and accompanying text should be kept to 150 words or less; however, both are optional.

  • What types of images/video files do you accept?


  • Allowed file types: .jpeg, .png, .jpg
  • Files must be less than 8MB
  • Images must be larger than or equal to 1920 px x 1080 px
  • Images must be smaller than 3840 px x 2160 px


  • Allowed file types: .mp4, .gif
  • Must be 5 minutes or less to be hosted on Museum monitor; longer videos will only be displayed on the Terrace


  • Allowed file types: .doc, .docx
  • Must be no more than 500 words
  • How do I post my photo or video using Instagram?

First, you will need to have an Instagram account. Once you do, take a photo or video for the Looking back to look forward project. In the description section of your photo/video, add the hashtag #lookingbacktolookforward. This will instantly connect you to others who have also tagged theirs. Finally, make sure your posts are public so that others can see your work.

  • I took a photo/video using Instagram; how do I officially submit it to the Terrace?

You should be able to access your photos via your phone. The original, unfiltered photos and videos will be in your camera photo album, while the filtered versions will be in the Instagram photo album. Simply upload your chosen file to the Submission Form on the Terrace following the submission guidelines.

  • If I have any questions, who do I contact?

Please contact Rachel Chamberlain at rachel.chamberlain@bc.edu.