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Black American Women You Need to Know
Day 07: Kara Walker
Kara Walker is not the only artist to tackle racism, slavery, sexual abuse or oppression. But she may be the only artist to succeed in turning such horrifying subjects into something beautiful, poetic and even witty, using the genteel 18th-century art of cut-paper silhouettes.
via "Kara Walker's art traces the color line" by Marianne Combs (Minnesota Public Radio NewsQ)
I've seen audiences glaze over when they're confronted with racism. There's nothing more damning and demeaning to having any kind of ideology than people just walking the walk and nodding and saying what they're supposed to say and nobody feels anything.
Kara as quoted in the above article
Kara's showing of work entitled My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love got a lot of media attention and in some circles was considered quite controversial. While many people like to say that slavery is "history" and insist we move on, Kara pulls from the motifs of slavery to point out the continued inequalities in our society and to push us to discuss how that so-called history continues to be felt in the Black consciousness.
Looking at Kara's pieces is traumatic. i cannot speak to why and how it is difficult for Black people, as i will let them speak for themselves. But as a person of color whose people also have a very painful history in this country that we are told to "get over", i feel a great deal of tension within myself when i look at her work, and i relate to many of the images on an intensely personal level. i imagine her work is also difficult for those who wish to believe that we are in a "post-racial" society and wonder why these issues are still being dredged up. For people of color, the pain is in how meaningful Kara's work remains; for some others the pain is because they'd like to sweep the issues under the rug but her work forces them to confront reality.
Walker's silhouette images work to bridge unfinished folklore in the Antebellum South, raising identity and gender issues for African American women in particular. However, because of her confrontational approach to the topic, Walker's artwork is reminiscent of Andy Warhol's Pop Art during the 1960s (indeed, Walker says she adored Warhol growing up as a child). Her nightmarish yet fantastical images incorporate a cinematic feel. Walker uses images from historical textbooks to show how African American slaves were depicted during Antebellum South.
You can view quite a lot of her work online: