Kara Walker: Loud Social Commentary Heard through the Eyes
Fine artist; Professor of Visual Arts in Columbia University’s MFA program
Kara Walker is an African American fine artist best known for her room-size tableaux of black cut-paper silhouettes that examines America’s racial and gender tensions. Her art often addresses themes such as power, repression, history, race, and sexuality.
Innovating in Field of Work:
Walker’s work has always been deemed “controversial”, a descriptive word indicating that her effectively makes viewers question their own beliefs and the current social status-quo regarding race, gender, and sexuality. Her work often operates in a “moral grey zone”.
• At the age of 27, she became the youngest recipient of the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grant, which launched a public controversy around her work.
• In 2002 she was chosen to represent the U.S. in the São Paulo Biennial.
• In 2007, the Walker Art Center organized a full-scale U.S. museum survey
exhibition Kara Walker: My Complement, My Oppressor, My Enemy, My Love is the artist’s first full-scale U.S. museum survey.
• Walker has had 38 solo exhibitions and has her work shown in over 85 group exhibitions, nationally and internationally.
Walker has often received criticism for her controversial work. She has even been criticized by African-American artists such as Betye Saar, who launched a campaign against Walker’s work, who believed her work failed to clearly identify the perpetrators and victims of America’s racial history and questioned if she had done this for the “amusement of the white establishment”. Despite criticism and the nervousness of many sponsors, Walker has never altered her art to cater to a particular audience and has always focused on her own motivations and inspirations.
Reinvention / Risk / Momentum:
Walker has recently finished her first large-scale public commission at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn that explores America’s racial history. She accepted this commission as an opportunity to discover how a public project would transform how her work is translated when reaching a broader audience. Previous to this commission, she has avoided chasing public projects partly out of the high risk of criticism and anxiety.
“Her intelligence is sharp, her humour quick and her art something that stays with you, and
forces you to confront difficult issues.”