Kara Walker

Kara Walker

Originally from California, Kara Walker’s work are haunted by sexuality, violence, and subjugation, shedding light on the ongoing psychological injury from the legacy of slavery. Her work focuses on giving the viewer a critical understanding of the past and simultaneously examining contemporary racial and gender stereotypes. She uses silhouettes to explore the nature of race representation, interrogating the representation of the Black body by modern artists. She has also touched on the way that images of Black bodies in pain continue to be a European/American spectacle.

Biography Source

Walker's Works

This title of this installation refers to the Margaret Mitchell novel, Gone with the Wind, set in the context of the Civil War. Walker’s narrative in this piece begins and ends with coupled figures, but the chain of tragicomic and turbulent imagery refutes the promise of romance and confounds conventional attributions of power and oppression. 

This wall installation inaugurated Walker’s signature medium: black cut-out silhouettes of caricatures of antebellum figures arranged on a white wall in uncanny, sexual, and violent scenarios. She revives this 18th century cut-paper silhouette style as a way of critiquing historical narratives of slavery and the perpetuation of ethnic and racial stereotypes.

In this paper installation, Walker uses cut-paper silhouettes, known to have been a refined 28th century, high-society craft, to portray graphic narratives haunted by sexuality, violence, and subjugation, and confronting stereotypes to depict scenes in which masters and mistresses engaged with enslaved people and children, a surreal version of history. Through this installation, she aimed to examine the problematic nature of appropriating and exoticizing Black identity, culture, and vernacular across time and across the world. ‘Endless Conundrum’ is a direct reference to ‘Endless Column’ (1918), by a Romanian artist named Constantin Brancusi, who is often credited with inventing the terms of modern abstract sculpture and zigzag motifs of his work. This is a way of drawing attention to the unattributed adoption of African and Oceanic art in the creation of early 20th century European modernism, as with ‘Endless Column’.

‘A Subtlety’ refers to ‘Subtleties’ which were once a luxury. They were sugar sculptures made for the rich and elite, basically as edible table decorations. This was possible because sugar became a lot more widely available in large part due to slave labour. Walker looks at the history of slave trade in America, questions like who cut the sugar cane? Who bleached it? Who sacked it? This sculpture is a 35 foot tall ‘Sugar Baby’, a Black woman-sphinx made out of bleached sugar, which acts as both metaphor and reality since sugar is brown in its ‘raw’ state, lodged in the back of an enormous warehouse built in the late 19th century that Domino used at one point for storing raw sugar cane as it arrived from the Caribbean for refinement and packaging. The sculpture is enormous, yet still wears a kerchief around her head to remind the viewer where she comes from. Walker is intentional with this enormity not only for the viewer to see her, but so that the sphinx can so boldly display this position that is regal yet totemic of subjugation, beat down but standing.