Friday, April 24, 2015


Kara Walker, a 45-five-year-old African-American, is famous for her "paintings," that aren't really paintings.

With a bang, her works exploded in the art world of 1994 -- black paper silhouettes on a white background -- significantly black on white.

At 25, she was suddenly a name. She received the MacArthur "Genius" award; her work over the years has been exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Tate Liverpool in Liverpool, England, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Here are Walker's own words about her work that open our eyes and minds: "Slavery! Slavery! Presenting a grand and lifelike Panoramic Journey into Picturesque Southern Slavery or “Life at ‘Ol’ Virginny’s Hole.' See the Peculiar Institution as never before! All cut from black paper by the able hand of Kara Elizabeth Walker, an Emancipated Negress and leader in her Cause, 1997."

Is she a political proselytizer or a passionate black artist who's steeped in black history? I've studied many of her black on white works. They are detailed, carefully designed, representational black cut-outs -- not cut out with a scissors -- black figures painted on white canvas that tell, in bits and pieces, the story this artist is apparently compelled to tell, and display, in a 360 degree cyclorama format that surrounds the viewer.

At the Museum of Modern Art, during an interview, Walker said: "I guess there was a little bit of a slight rebellion, maybe a little bit of a renegade desire, that made me realize that I really liked pictures that told stories of things. I don't know how much I believe in redemptive stories, even though people want them and strive for them.”

Her silhouettes are characters in a nightmarish world that reveals the brutality of American racism -- the inequality, the humiliating realities of life for plantation slaves -- very often with shocking grotesque images. For example, in "The Battle of Atlanta," a white soldier is raping a black girl while her shocked brother watches a white child, who is about to insert his sword into a black woman's vagina while a black slave is shedding tears on an adolescent white boy. Walker helps the viewer distinguish the Negroes from the Whites by using physical stereotypical details -- bigger lips, Negro nose and Negro hair.

Using her own voice, and sometimes her daughter's voice in some of her newest work -- films, puppet shows, and drawings with white bleeding into black -- Dr. Kara Walker, professor of visual arts at Columbia University, says that her work addresses the way Americans look at racism with a “soft focus, avoiding the confluence of disgust and desire and voluptuousness that are all wrapped up in racism.

Walker is a rueful artistic voice on the subject of race and racism -- maybe a leader -- in the undeclared civil war that's been brewing and getting hotter since black teenager Trayvon Martin was shot by white, neighborhood-watchman George Zimmerman.

Here's a link to the NYC Gallery where Kara Walker paintings are sold; if you want to know more about her personal life and education here's a link to the Wikipedia biography.

I think Kara Walker's art is a shout about black history and racism that reflects what's happening throughout the country.


Stan said...

Nice article Em. It's been said that racism has once again reared its ugly head, but I think its head has been raised for a long time, only in more subtle ways.Thanks

Linda Phillips said...

Wonderful! Her voice, through her art, speaks for millions!

Unknown said...

Each of the world's continents (including Oceana) is represented by a lone, Art Grand Master. This distinction is bestowed anew, annually. In America (2015) Societe deBeaux Arts-Luxembourg is deciding between L.A.'s Kara Walker & Clevelands' Marc Breed.