Kara Walker is an artist who is most notably known by her creations of large paper silhouettes which tend to focus on topics of race, gender, politics, and acute wit. What I enjoy most about her work is the ability to garner strong engagement with her viewers. Something that I challenge myself to do with my work is to enhance the experience and encourage viewers to remain engaged.
Walker is able to create such subtle expressions and meaning, that viewers' interests are heightened and unwavering. She asks, “how do we conceptually create a space where people decide to deal with neglect and the atrocities of America,” to then go on to find solutions and answers to that question: her process includes critically thinking, research, and writing which then inform itself onto her work.
Something that sets Walker apart from many other visual artists is her focus on pre-civil war histories in the medium of paper cut out silhouettes. I noticed in conversation that Walker does not call her figures “Black people” or “White people,” yet connotes them in their figures with signifiers that prompt viewers to assess their own prejudices and knowledges about racial physicalities. The aesthetic faculties considered reel in viewers to take into consideration the environment, time period, actions taking place, and narratives ensued. The stereotypical figures of and related to the era of slavery, center themselves at the forefront in order to showcase and hold conversations about racial exploitation, sexual, and physical abuse. There is consideration for the “taboo,” without idealization which works to align with Walker’s goal of persuading the audience by way of execution, to deal with the neglect and atrocities of America.
Walker mentioned that monuments, although big in scale, are often forgotten or passed by without recollection. And so, it seems that she is challenging that by creating her own memorials. She understands because they are stationary, they must always be activated in order to be remembered which is pretty profound when you think about it because when is the last time a monument you've seen locally, been activated?
You have to have a desire to walk up to a monument and learn more, but when it is activated, like Walker’s 2018, “The Katastwóf Karavan” it becomes a spectacle and not an ‘unacknowledged presence’.
Kara Walker actively contributes to the memory and histories of politics of and relating to the antebellum South, specific to the slave era. Depending upon the location your arrival, the varying perspectives offer narratives that can align or combat pre-existing prejudices and ignorances. The personalities depicted form parameters for which viewers are able to remain engaged due to wanting to be close and invested in the ‘spectacle’.
I would counter arguments of reliving or making ‘past’ events present with that of catapulting egregious events in the contemporary not to relive, but to provide commentary through her own prejudice which observingly seems to be through comedy, research, conceptualizing, and avid writing; whether spurts or long essays.
For me, Kara Walker proves that the impossibility has the capacity to exist. What I really enjoy is that like me, she considers humor in her work not for others, but mainly for herself. I think that this practice allows for the work to thrive as it does because there is a space in which she provides comfort for self. I was very surprised to learn that she came to acclaim so early on in her career. Her career has spanned the entire existence of my life and I think it is absolutely phenomenal to have such a streak- that her work is incapable of having success but to exceed it by way of new ideas and modes of creating. I celebrate these artists because I see myself in them.
A SUPPORTED OPINION PAGE: