Friday, 13 February 2015

CONTROVERSIAL ART?: KARA WALKER

WALK OF FAME

BY: MALLORY HORRILL

I have always been attracted to art pieces and artists that express significant issues through their work, stimulating and encouraging thought and discussion on the subject. Following this train of thought I would like to introduce to you an artist that I recently became acquainted with, the very talented Kara Walker.

Walker is an African American artist that is most well known for confronting gender, race, identity, and violence in her work, especially in relation to African American history. She was born in 1969 in California, and moved with her family to Georgia in 1982. Walker attended Atlanta’s College of Art where she received her Bachelors degree in Fine Arts in 1991. Walker continued her education at the Rhode Island School of Design, completing her Masters of Fine Arts in 1994. In the final year of her Masters, Walker kick started her artistic career with an exhibit at the Drawing Center in SoHo, New York. 
Black silhouette scenes depicting life in antebellum south on two walls, in the middle of photo is a doorway between the walls that depicts a silhouetted person against a blue sky background.
Slavery! Slavery! (1997) (The New York Times)
Walker’s career has continued on an upward trajectory, in 1997 she was awarded the MacArthur Foundation ‘genius’ grant, she has displayed her work worldwide in both solo and group exhibitions, and many museums own her work. The artist varies her artistic expression through a wide range of media, including but not limited to paint, cut paper silhouette, drawing, film, light projection, text, and most recently sugar! Walker currently resides in New York, where she teaches at Columbia’s School of the Arts and continues to create amazing art pieces.

While Walker’s work does stimulate reflection and thought it has also caused moments of contention. In 1997, her art was criticized by many for depicting the African Americans of the anti-bellum south through negative stereotypes. Walker stated: “So I saw the silhouette and stereotype as linked. Of course, while the stereotype, or the emblem, can communicate with a lot of people, and a lot of people can understand it, the other side is that it also reduces differences, reduces diversity to that stereotype.”(Columbia News)

Coloured projection overtop of black silhouetted people.
Darkytown Rebellion (2001) (The Whitney Museum of American Art)
A similar incident arose in 2012, when the Newark Public Library took offense to a piece of Walker’s that they were displaying on loan. The piece depicts many different scenes but the one that provoked controversy was an image where a woman is depicted performing a sexual act on a male figure. Walker stated about the piece: “I wanted to make a point about the way these images arose for many when Barack Obama (pictured at a little lectern on the mid-left) gave his national speech on race. And the many times he invokes his or his wife's heritage to make an ideological point about American patriotism, which in some way grants permission to the ghosts of racist terrorism to be reimagined—here with KKK hooded figures, lynched bodies and sexual violence—and these should be horrible to behold, and should feel both familiar and uncomfortable.”(Art in America) The Newark library temporarily covered the art piece from public viewing until it was decided that it should be displayed.

Walker’s work is both praised and questioned. What do you think of Walker’s work?

The creation of the work A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby

Special thanks to Madeleine Adamson for introducing me to this extremely talented artist. 

THE FOLLOWING SOURCES WERE CONSULTED:
http://www.biography.com/people/kara-walker-37225
http://www.columbia.edu/cu/news/03/09/karaWalker.html
http://learn.walkerart.org/karawalker?n=Main.HomePage
http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/news/kara-walker-newark-library/

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