An extraordinary disappointment of the modern world is how little recognition female artists (anything other than music) receive. From memory, only two come to mind, Frida Kahol and Annie Leibovitz, not to be mistaken as anything less than great but surely being familiar with the two only touches the surface of female artists worthy of praise. As new outlets for expression emerge and old mediums withstand the test of time, it’s important to acknowledge works of female artists’ such as Kara Walker. Not to be confused with the silhouettes of fairy tales like Peter Pan who prances along your bedroom wall and you just can’t seem to catch him, Walker’s silhouettes merge the realities of the history of racism with art. As noted by artnews.com, Kara Walker is making headlines “Kara Walker was on exhibit from late 2007 to [early last year (09)]” at the Whitney Museum. Like graffiti artist Princess Hijab, Kara seeks “revenge”, not against capitalism so much, but against the oppression of people because of their race, gender, and or sexuality.
In creating her silhouette installations, Kara works primarily in black and white, the absence of color itself a commentary of the struggles between white and black throughout history. Power struggle is a constant theme found throughout all her work. Her intention is for “"The silhouette [to] says a lot with very little information, but that's also what the stereotype does,”. When seeing Kara’s work for the first time it is easy to miss the details for instance the use of certain caricatures, mammies, sambos, slave mistresses, masters, and Southern belles, to represent the realities of slavery. Perhaps this is intentional because like Walker’s subtleties in her work people also swept racism and other inequalities under the rug until the oppressed would finally find their voice.
For her most recent installation at Art Institute of Chicago Walker displayed “Rise Up Ye Mighty Race!” which ran from February to August of 2013. In this exhibit Walker explores the more contemporary realities of white supremacist rhetoric as opposed to her often historical depictions of the war on race. The installation is a compilation of her famous silhouettes as well as graphite drawings and many smaller mixed media works all exploring the all to recent battle in the war on race. Equally as important is the use of setting and scale, which often make use of an entire room, to breathe life in to her otherwise simplified works.
Walker’s work has also been featured in smaller settings such as the Newark Public Library where a drawing of President Obama struggle to give a speech in the midst of chaos as a white cross apparently on fire looms in the background. Certainly Walker is not afraid to make the viewer uncomfortable, forcing them to question their own understanding of contemporary racial attitudes and never letting them forget about the violent past. There is so much chaos and controversy surrounding the figure of Barack Obama and the burning cross that the image of a black woman whose face is being forced into the gentiles of a white man is almost an understatement. This type of controversial work has followed Walker throughout her entire career becoming a signature for her as an artist.
Being a female artist makes it challenging to gain recognition within the community but being a black female artist poses an even greater challenge. This stigma has been with her since her days in art school where her professor often inquired “why her art didn’t look like her, presumably because it didn’t seem to deal directly or exclusively with “black experience.” Defying the odds against Kara Walker has risen to fame receiving the MacArthur foundation genius grant at the age of 27 over ten years ago. Be on the lookout for this incredible artist whose work pushes the limits forcing the viewer to confront himself in a very real and raw way.
Where the Great Women Artists Are Now by Barbara A. MacAdam, http://www.artnews.com/2007/02/01/where-the-great-women-artists-are-now
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