Day 9: Kara Walker

Kara Walker

Kara Walker’s work is extremely moving and evocative. If you don’t feel that power and tension than you don’t have a pulse. She works in cut paper silhouettes, narrative vingettes and cyclorama, painting, drawing, light based works and video film and performance. All unabashedly addressing issues of race, desire and shame, history and Capote-style narrative.

Like in Insurrection! (Our tools were rudimentary yet we passed them on)

"’Insurrection!’ The idea at the outset was an image of a slave revolt in the antebellum south where the house slaves got after their master with their utensils of everyday life, and really it started with a sketch of a series of slaves disemboweling a master with a soup ladle. My reference, in my mind, was the surgical theatre paintings of Thomas Eakins and others." - Kara Walker

and in Gone, An Historical Romance of a Civic War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart

Walker draws inspiration from the physiognomic portrayals of slaves in the Antebellum South. Using things like Picaninny caricature and other forms of racialization by accentuating feature characteristics attributed to blacks.

“I’m reducing things down a lot, but I’m also characterizing everything and everyone as a black thing, and it comes from a way of viewing the world, looking for blackness, in its good and nefarious forms.”

“Most pieces have to do with exchanges of power, attempts to steal power away from others.”

In her piece The Battle of Atlanta,

The Battle of Atlanta: Being the narrative of a negress in the flames of desire - A reconstruction, 1995

You can see a southern soldier raping a young black girl,

A white child preparing to insert his toy sword into a lynched black woman’s vagina,

And a child holding a severed leg.

“All of the bad vibes, the bad feelings, all of the nastiness, and all of the sort of vulgar associations with blackness, and the more base associations in this culture about Black Americans or Africans bubble up to the surface of my brain and spill out into this work.” Some of these “vulgar associations” are things like scatology,


Humane acquisition of chitlins

and miscegenation,

After Hurricane Katrina and the lack of response given to areas mostly inhabited by impoverished minorities, Walker created “After the Deluge” likening the events to African slaves crossing the Atlantic.

"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."


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