Kara Walker was born in 1969 in Stockton, California, and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. She received a BFA in painting and printmaking from the Atlanta College of Art in 1991 and an MFA in painting and printmaking from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994.Read More
Beginning with Gone: An Historical Romance of Civil War as it Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of a Young Negress and Her Heart (1994), she became known for her panoramic friezes of cut-paper silhouettes, usually black figures against a white wall, which address the history of American slavery and racism through violent and unsettling imagery. Gone includes a tree bough that suggests a typical novelistic setting for a lovers' meeting, yet all manner of surreal activity takes place: the woman of a white couple that is about to kiss has four legs; the man seems to touch the bottom of a nearby black boy with his sword; this boy is holding a swan that has emerged from a black woman, who floats on the water (a set of metaphors for miscegenation). The installation No mere words can Adequately reflect the Remorse this Negress feels at having been Cast into such a lowly state by her former Masters and so it is with a Humble heart that she brings about their physical Ruin and earthly Demise (1999) introduced white as well as black silhouettes against a gray background. Here Walker explored the motif of the slave rebellion gone wrong: slaves (including a figure of Liberty wearing Mickey Mouse ears) battle one another instead of their masters.
With The Emancipation Approximation (1999–2000), Walker incorporated colour into her work, retaining the earlier themes of slavery and miscegenation. Since Why I Like White Boys, an Illustrated Novel by Kara E. Walker (2000), her illustrations have increasingly functioned as environments for the viewer. In this work and ones to follow, coloured light is projected onto the gallery walls to complement the silhouettes, which explore the theme of collective memories of slavery in relation to problems of racism in the present. For After the Deluge (2006), Walker blurred the lines between artist and curator when she presented her own works alongside pieces she selected from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to articulate her visual commentary on the displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Text courtesy Krakow Witkin Gallery.
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