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July 11, 2018

Kara Walker: Rearranging Race Relations

Walker working on her piece, "Gone, An Historical Romance of Civil War As it Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of Young Negress and Her Heart."

Walker working on her piece, “Gone, An Historical Romance of Civil War As it Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of Young Negress and Her Heart.”

California born Kara Walker is a contemporary conceptual artist living and working in New York City. Her work examines issues of race, gender, sexuality, and violence. Walker’s iconic work features the traditionally proper Victorian Medium affixed to gallery walls, crafting a dramatic interaction and experience amongst her characters. In addition to her work, Walker also works as a faculty member at Columbia University in the MFA program.

 

'My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love' by Kara Walker

‘My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love’ by Kara Walker 

When I lived in Brooklyn, I saw her first museum survey when it traveled to the Whitney Museum. Over the years I have also interacted with a few of her pieces in the Brooklyn Museum, and at the ICA in Boston.  In addition, Walker’s work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, where I first saw her.

 

Although working in drawing, painting, and installations, Walker is best known for her life-sized–or perhaps slightly larger than life-sized–black paper silhouette cutout work. In 1994, she created ‘Gone, An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart‘, which caught the art world’s attention.  The work featured a larger than life depiction and commentary of the Antebellum South in silhouette.

 

Excerpt from 'Gone, An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart' by Kara Walker

Excerpt from ‘Gone, An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart’ by Kara Walker

Through her work, Walker communicates a mix of humor and grim observation on historic and current issues surrounding race. At the same time, she offers a not-so-subtle challenge to the viewer to engage with the work. Her pieces are large, impactful and oftentimes violent.  Viewers confront Walker’s work in the sterile space of a minimalist gallery, creating a powerful experience.

 

At 28, Walker was the second youngest person to ever be awarded the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s ‘genius grant.’ She has been listed by Time Magazine as one of the ‘100 Most Influential People in The World, Artist, and Entertainers.’

 

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