“I was seeing images that were all too familiar. It was black people in a state of life-or-death desperation, and everything corporeal was coming to the surface: water, excrement, sewage. It was a re-inscription of all the stereotypes about the black body.”
Kara Walker speaks of her work as being about the unexpected. How can we be the hero/heroine yet want to kill the hero/heroine at the same time? Is this the American dilemma we find ourselves in? We are all connected, yet we focus on our differences and differentiators. Kara Walker exploits the push and pull of the American wound, our modern slavery history, that is alive and played out in our everyday 21st century lives. What are the messages, both hidden and obvious, that we can glean valuable information from, as we navigate our daily lives. Are we more comfortable not directly confronting the subject, which her silhouette allows us to do or do we have the courage to face the subject head on? Kara Walker challenges us to contemplate these questions.
Kara Walker was born in Stockton, California. Her retired father [Larry Walker] is a formally educated artist, a professor, and an administrator. Her mother [Gwen Walker] worked as an administrative assistant and was inspired by her family to reveal her own artistic talents.
Kara Walker’s silhouette images work to bridge unfinished folklore in the Antebellum South, raising identity and gender issues for African American women in particular. However, because of her confrontational approach to the topic, Walker’s artwork is reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s Pop Art during the 1960s (indeed, Walker says she adored Warhol growing up as a child). Her nightmarish yet fantastical images incorporate a cinematic feel. Walker uses images from historical textbooks to show how African American slaves were depicted during Antebellum South. Some of her images are grotesque, for example, in The Battle of Atlanta, a white man, presumably a Southern soldier, is raping a black girl while her brother watches in shock, a white child is about to insert his sword into a nearly-lynched black woman’s vagina, and a male black slave rains tears all over an adolescent white boy.
In 1997, Kara Walker—who was 28 at the time—was one of the youngest people to receive a MacArthur fellowship. There was a lot of criticism because of her fame at such a young age and the fact that her art was most popular within the white community.
Joseph Osborne Social Curator