One of the most disturbing scenes in a new video work by Carrie Mae Weems at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan comes around the middle. We see the paper silhouettes of two (presumably white) women in 19th-century garb, laughing uproariously over a tea table. They look like women who might have been enjoying an afternoon on a Southern plantation.

But what the audience hears is the voice of Amy Cooper, the white woman who called the police on Black birdwatcher Christian Cooper in Central Park in 2020: “I’m going to tell them an African American man is threatening my life. There’s an African American man; I’m in Central Park, and he’s recording me and threatening myself and my dog.”

That snippet repeats on a loop.

“You're implicated as a viewer and she doesn't let you off the hook,” said curator Tom Eccles. “I think that's what gives it a real resonance and power.”

In fact, Weems’ entire exhibit, called “The Shape of Things,” is powerful. The artist, who has "consistently and poignantly addressed the conditions of race in the United States" in her works, uses 19th-century technology with archival and current images to make viewers feel — in a visceral way — the long history of white supremacy in America. Weems said the idea came to her several years ago when she heard a talk about how the demographics of the country were shifting so that eventually it would be “majority minority.”

“I just found that so fascinating. I rushed home and started investigating this, started thinking about this,” Weems said. “And as the country’s been moving from white to Black and various shades of brown, there’s been extraordinary resistance — whether it’s the election of Donald Trump to the police violence that’s been directed against young Black men. So those are the themes I explore in this exhibition.”

But also, she said she wanted to think about how you ”bring the past forward,” hence the use of so much old timey technology. According to the show's description, it's all "suggestive of a 19th-century carnival," with dioramas and peep shows.

The 40-minute video that acts as the centerpiece of the exhibit is shown on a 24-foot, 360-degree screen and is based on something called a cyclorama. Popular over 150 years ago, cycloramas have been called the IMAX of the 1860s; they were immersive, surrounding the audience with murals of historic or battle scenes.

Then there’s “Pepper’s Ghost,” which employs lights and glass to trick an audience into seeing ghostly images. “It’s the 19th-century version of a hologram,” Weems said. And there are dioramas — in a series of small rooms set off to the side, one of them is set up like a rich Dutch still life, with rich draperies, a globe, a fallen pillar, and a taxidermied swan. But instead of being a general memento mori, we see the balloons and flowers and candles and photographs and realize it’s a memorial to those Black people who have lost their lives at the hands of police, a memorial that’s both beautiful and horrific at once.

Weems is best known as a photographer (and photography, too, is a 19th century technology), so there are plenty of photographic images here, too. These are large-format, black and white portraits of a model wearing a variety of masks — a monkey, a donkey, an elephant, a chicken, a sheep. It is clear that they are portraits, in a way, of American politicians.

But Weems said the show isn’t meant to be political, though she’s “engaged in my historical moment, in the time in which I live.”

Her framing is that she’s unpacking the images of America, she hopes “allows for deeper kinds of journey, a deeper personal journey, the kinds of questions that we have to ask ourselves about who we are, what we are, who we want to be, how we want to engage the world around us.”

The show is not, in the end, about America as a whole, Weems said. It’s about the individuals standing in the Armory, who need to make daily choices about the kind of world they want to live in.

Curator Eccles said the exhibit provokes “a roller coaster of emotion,” and indeed it does. At the end, there’s a serene place for reflection after you get off that roller coaster. You walk inside a mesh curtain, and there’s a large, glowing photograph of the moon. Leading up to it is a staircase, and an illuminated door. Weems has spent the exhibit prodding at the conscience of the viewer. The door is like a question: now that you know the truth, it seems to say, will you take steps to change the shape of things?

“The Shape of Things” by Carrie Mae Weems is at the Park Avenue Armory (643 Park Ave, Manhattan) through December 31st. Tickets are $18.