The collision of
fact and fiction is at the core of Kara Walker’s explorations of the
history of race relations in the United States. Walker likens her process
of cutting out near-life-sized silhouettes of characters she invents,
based on such sources as nineteenth- century slave narratives, to the
process of stereotyping itself—both involve reducing figures to their
emblematic profiles. The elegant and lyrical line of Walker’s cut edges,
embellished with curling, ribbon-like flourishes and touches of whimsy, is
a foil to the jolt that overtakes the viewer as her narrative is slowly
revealed. Figures and vignettes emerge and transform as she creates them—at
first victim, now victimizer, appealing and disturbing in equal measure.
She creates a complex reading of history that is at once seductive and
confrontational—visions that complicate human interactions, making it
impossible to simplify the entangled and intensely personal struggle of
racism. Her work functions like psychological inkblots to engage feelings
about the entire history of race relations—the artist’s, our own, and
Kara Walker, The Emancipation Approximation, 1999, cut paper and adhesive on wall, site specific installation (one panel detail)
Kara Walker began exhibiting in 1991 in Atlanta, Georgia, and her work has since been included in many international group exhibitions such as La Belle et La Bête, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1995); Conceal/Reveal at SITE Santa Fe, New Mexico, and New Histories, Institute for Contemporary Art, Boston, Massachusetts (1996); no place (like home), Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1997); Global Vision: New Art from the ’90s, Deste Foundation, Athens, and Secret Victorians, Contemporary Artists and a 19th-Century Vision, Hayward Gallery for the Arts Council of England, London (1998), which also appeared at Armand Hammer Museum of Art, Los Angeles (1999); and Other Narratives, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Texas (1999). Numerous solo shows of WalkerÕs work have been presented, including those at Wooster Gardens/Brent Sikkema, New York (1995, 1996, 1998); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California, and Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (1997); and California College of Arts and Crafts, Oliver Art Center, Oakland (1999). In 1997 Walker received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grant.
1994 Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island, M.F.A.
Art Pool, Museum in Progress, and the Vienna State Opera, Vienna, Austria. Kara Walker, Safety Curtain, 1998/99 (1998). Texts by Vitus H. Weh and Nancy Spector.
Hannaham, James. “Pea, Ball, Bounce: Interview with Kara Walker.” Interview (November 1998): 114-19.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California. Kara Walker: Upon My Many Masters—An Outline (1997). Exhibition brochure, text by Gary Garrels and interview with the artist by Alexander Alberro.
Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago. Kara Walker (1997). Exhibition catalogue, designed and written by Kara Walker.