Kara Walker: Presenting Negro Scenes Drawn Upon My Passage through the South and Reconfigured for the Benefit of Enlightened Audiences Wherever Such May Be Found, By Myself, Missus K.E.B. Walker, Colored
Within its Roundhouse exhibition space, the DuSable presents a signature black silhouette installation from Kara Walker as part of Toward Common Cause.
Across three decades of making artworks of black cut-out figures, Walker has turned the harm of racism upon itself by refusing to veil the history of slavery in shame or euphemism. Underscoring racism, stereotypes, and bodily desire as black-and-white issues, this installation presents antebellum characters in the style of black paper portraiture, a genre whose use from the mid-17th century through the late 19th century not only overlapped with the history of slavery but also perpetuated extremely problematic stereotypes about Black people. Offered up for reconsideration in our time, these vignettes confront us with powerful questions of how to deal with our nation’s painful past.
Claiming ownership of a painful history is a difficult task. Broadening the scope of representation to include the subjective and psychological implications of slavery is central to the agenda of artists such as Alice Walker, Isaac Julien, Toni Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, Julie Dash, Charles Johnson, and now Kara Walker. Poetic, political, personal, and perverse, Walker’s work does not explore but explodes American history through the lens of race and sexuality. Using stylized black cut-out silhouettes, a popular art form of the 19th century, Walker’s work functions anachronistically. Her “Inner Plantation” as she has dubbed it, is filled with stock racist stereotypes — mammies, pickanniny’s, crackers, Uncle Remuses, Southern belles, Confederate Soldiers, and slave mistresses. Walker combines the pyscho-sexual pleasure/pain, desire/disgust dynamic associated with sado-masochism with the sociopolitical realities of slavery. As angry, humorous, depraved, erotic, or disgusting as Walker’s scenarios maybe, her embrace of derogatory stereotypes is confrontational for memory’s sake. Walker’s images haunt because we will not admit to being haunted. In this sense, they are an exorcism that enlightens only through the discomfort. For her exhibition at The Society, Walker will develop a new “visual novella.” She has planned an ambitious display of new cut-outs, as well as numerous watercolors and other works. – Hamza Walker