Art Appreciation Monday: Slavery, Black Exploitation and the Work of Kara Walker

“Challenging and highlighting abusive power dynamics in our culture is my goal; replicating them is not.” —Kara Walker

Kara Walker was born in Stockton, California, in 1969. After getting her BFA at the Atlanta College of Art in 1991, she continued her studies at the Rhode Island School of Design. Walker is best known for her silhouetted compositions that employ themes of race, gender, and sexuality. It was one of her earlier silhouette murals, Gone:  An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart, that helped launch her career.

Conveying such heavy topics, Walker has found herself at the center of controversy on multiple occasions. Her whimsical depictions of  black stereotypes and slavery are testaments to the horrific nature of the black American experience. Perhaps it is the seemingly innocent quality of her work that conjures a feeling of misplacement. However, Walker believes this is essential to eliciting a response to her work.

Walker is also known for her sculptures. Her relatively recent A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, shows a sphinx-like black woman with large lips and overly inflated hips and breast. Her rear extends towards the ceiling, completely exposing her genitalia. The sculpture serves as a commentary on the trading of slaves for sugar and the objectification of the black female body. According to Walker, it’s a “New World Sphinx, something that envelops the sugar empire, the slave empire. The rise of sugar and the rise of slavery happened at the same time.”

Check out some of her work and her exclusive interview with Art21 below.

Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b'tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart, 1994
Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart, 1994
African't, 1996
African’t, 1996
A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby,2014
A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby,2014

 


Sources: Animal, Bio, Art21

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