Shocking the art world with her black silhouette depictions of blacks and whites engaged in situations ranging from lynchings to rape and even bestiality during the pre-Civil War South, Kara Walker has achieved both notoriety and acclaim in the art world while still in her twenties. “It is hard to think of another artist in the last three or four years who has emerged as rapidly,” commented Alexis Worth on Walker in a 1996 issue of Art in New England.
In a way, Walker’s goal with her art is to make the viewer gasp and laugh at the same time. “I want to provoke the audience in the most enjoyable way possible,” Walker told Artnews “I think of my art as a kind of melodrama, producing a certain ...view middle of the document...
In her review of the work, Lynn Gumpert of Artnews wrote, “The work engages viewers with its deceptive simplicity and seemingly playful narrative, only to revolt them, compelling them to look in spite of themselves.”
Characters in a Walker installation tend to be easily recognized stereotypes of plantation inhabitants, from pickaninny children to mammies to the “old slave.” Through scenes of interaction between blacks and whites, and between blacks and blacks, Walker offers history lessons in race relations where the border between victim and victimizer is often blurred. Her artworks present contradictory feelings side by side, as blacks are shown being both attracted to whiteness and repelled by whites’ exploitation of them, and admiring of African American heroes while at the same time mocking themselves as blacks. “No one is really flattered here,” stated Roberta Smith of the New York Times in a review of Walker’s works at Wooster Gardens in New York City. “Blacks come off almost as badly as whites....” As Anne Doran wrote about Walker in Grand Street, “Her
At a Glance…
Born 1969 in Stockton, CA. Education: Atlanta College of Art; Rhode Island School of Design, M.F.A., 1994.
Had debut in group show at Drawing Center, New York, NY, 1994; had debut solo show at Brent Sikkema and Wooster Gardens, New York, NY, 1995; began working on a piece for Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, France, 1995; had show at Renaissance Society, Chicago, IL, 1997; sold work for permanent collections of Whitney Museum of American Art and Walker Center, New York, NY; participated in the Whitney Museum Biennial, 1997.
Addresses: Home —Providence, Rhode Island.
technique is a leveling device through which everyone becomes black: both kin and non-kin, each one the disguised, mysterious ’other.”’ “Walker exploits clichés in order to unmask false preconceptions and stereotypes,” added Gumpert in Artnews.
Walker’s sensibility as an artist was shaped to a large extent after she moved from California to Stone Mountain, Georgia, at age thirteen. Stone Mountain has been cited at the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, and the teenage Walker was keenly aware of the contrast between Southern gentility and prejudice entrenched in white culture there. “For the first time, she experienced both overt racism and ‘Southern hospitality,’ where, as she puts it, a ‘layer of sweetness coats everything,” remarked Gumpert of Walker’s experience. As a teenager in Georgia, Walker began laying the groundwork for her future artworks in her daydreaming. “I started playing little games with myself, pretending what it would be like if I were a slave,” she told the New York Times Magazine. Before long Walker was questioning the mythology of the South, simultaneously celebrating it and refuting it.
While attending the Atlanta College of Art, Walker began exploring graphic sexual images and the use of cut-out black silhouettes. Part of her inspiration for this artistic direction was her fascination with...