WALKER KARA

STOCKTON CA, U.S.A. [1969]

Kara Walker is a contemporary African-American artist who explores race, gender, sexuality, violence and identity in her work. She is best known for her room-size tableaux of black cut-paper silhouettes. Walker lives in New York and is on the faculty of the MFA program at Rutgers University.

Beginning with Gone: An Historical Romance of Civil War as it Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of a Young Negress and Her Heart (1994), Walker became known for her panoramic friezes of cut-paper silhouettes, usually black figures against a white wall, which address the history of American slavery and racism through violent and unsettling imagery. Walker has produced works in ochre gouaches, video animation, shadow puppets, and "magic-lantern" projections, as well as a number of black-paper silhouettes, perhaps her most recognizable works to date. The black and white silhouettes confront the realities of history, while also using the stereotypes from the era of slavery to relate to persistent modern-day concerns. Her visual language is applicable throughout the world, and reminds us of the power of art to defy conventions. Her exploration of American racism can be applied to other countries and cultures regarding relations between race and gender.

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. The silhouette was typically a genteel tradition in American art history; it was often used for family portraits and book illustrations. Walker carried on this portrait tradition but used them to create characters in a nightmarish world, a world that reveals the brutality of American racism and inequality. Walker’s work pokes holes in the romantic idea of the past—exposing the humiliating, desperate reality that was life for plantation slaves. She also incorporates ominous, sharp fragments of the South’s landscape; such as Spanish moss trees and a giant moon obscured by dramatic clouds. These images surround the viewer and create a circular, claustrophobic space. This circular format paid homage to another art form, the 360-degree historical painting known as the cyclorama. 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.Through the use of physical stereotypes, such as flatter profiles,bigger lips,straighter nose , longer hair, help the viewer immediately distinguish the "negroes" from the "whities". It is blatantly clear in her artwork who is in power and who is the victim to the people with power. There is a hierarchy in America relating to race and gender with white males at the top and women of color (specifically black) at the bottom. Kara depicts the inequalities and mistreatment of African Americans by their white counterparts.Viewers at the Studio Museum in Harlem looked sickly, shocked, and some appealed upon seeing her exhibition.However this is nothing new for her art often receives such reactions.Thelma , the museum's chief curator said : " Throughout her career, Kara has challenged and changed the way we look at and understand American history. her work is provocative and emotionally wrenching, yet overwhelmingly beautiful and intellectually compelling." Walker has said 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 debuted a public exhibition at the The Drawing Center in New York City in 1994. Her installation Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as it Occurred between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart"polarized the New York art world".

In her piece created in 2000, Insurrection! (Our Tools Were Rudimentary, Yet We Pressed On), the silhouetted characters are against a background of colored light projections. This gives the piece a transparent quality, evocative of the production cels from the animated films of the thirties. It also references the well-known plantation story Gone With the Wind and the Technicolor film based on it. Also, the light projectors were set up so that the shadows of the viewers were also cast on the wall, making them characters and encouraging them to really assess the work’s tough themes.

In 2005, she created the exhibit 8 Possible Beginnings or: The Creation of African-America, a Moving Picture, which introduced moving images and sound. This helped immerse the viewers even deeper into her dark worlds. In this exhibit, the silhouettes are used as shadow puppets. Also, she uses the voice of herself and her daughter to suggest how the heritage of early American slavery has affected her own image as an artist and woman of color.

In response to Hurricane Katrina, Walker created "After the Deluge," since the hurricane had devastated many poor and black areas of New Orleans. Walker was bombarded with news images of "black corporeality," including fatalities from the hurricane reduced to bodies and nothing more. She likened these casualties to African slaves piled onto ships for the Middle Passage, the Atlantic crossing to America.