From Black Voices – Kara Walker has never been one to shy away from controversy, and as her latest work will attest, the artist is not afraid to make audiences uncomfortable either. With two shows running concurrently in New York City — ‘Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale’ at Lehmann Maupin Gallery; ‘Dust Jackets for the Niggerati- and Supporting Dissertations, Drawing Submitted Ruefully by Dr. Kara E. Walker’ at Sikemma Jenkins & Co – Walker is once again flooring audiences with pieces that bring to mind the country’s difficult history with slavery and racism.

At Lehmann Maupin, the exhibit centers on a 17-minute shadow puppet narrative about Miss Pipi, a white Southern woman who lures one of her husband’s slaves into a tryst, though the young man attempts to resist. “Of the videos I’ve done, I’ve never focused or thought about the mythology around the white Southern female body,” said Walker, who has incorporated film or video into her shows since 2004. “I was thinking about that caricature of white feminine purity, added to that, scenes of sexuality, desire, co-optation, love and the ease with which the body and all of those kind of goals can be destroyed.”

The word “destroyed” is an apt description of what happens to all of the characters lives in the film. It is classic Walker – heart wrenching, eye opening and honest.

The Lehmann exhibit runs concurrently with Walker’s show at the Sikkema Jenkins & Co gallery. There, Walker shows a vast, 43-piece collection of graphite works on paper and hand-printed texts, a comic book-esque tale of black identity and the journey from its rural roots in America to the “New Negro” identity in urban areas.

For Walker, both shows are consistent with her reputation as an artist who shocks-and-awes her audience, and who holds nothing back when she tackles difficult subjects such as womanhood and racism.


(Continue Reading @ Black Voices…)

  • minna k.

    I’ve got nothing good to say about Kara Walker. I may be clumsy in my explanation, but here goes.

    Her themes is slavery and black pain. And she exploits the hell out of this theme by writing fictional accounts of rape and abuse at the hands of a fictional white master.

    To add romance She uses “pretty” period like aesthetic (i.e. an Aubrey Beardsly like motif), to create her paper shadow cut outs and glorify whiteness. This gives the viewer a sense of nostalgia, exoticism, and (gasp) controversy. But its almost like it didn’t really happen. You know, slavery. Perfect for the white art elite.

    My issue is that she can’t dare deviate from these themes. She needs to keep creating this kind of fluff to stay relevant. Looking at this new work, it seems as if she is running out of steam. She is one reason why I detest the art world as it stands and the box where a black visual artist can participate and be successful.

    Hennesy Youngman has an interesting youtube video series called Art Thoughtz that addresses this kind of thing.

  • omg

    i saw one of her shows a few years ago. they were cutout images of slaves and masters doing “shocking” things – slaves gives fellatio, etc. things along those lines, from what i recollect.

    after awhile, it grew tiring. and i didn’t leave with a fantastic impression.

    sometimes i wish people would get over the juvenile need to “shock.” it’s not that interesting.

    so, yawn…

  • Lex

    I’m lending this comment with the full disclosure that I am an artist, I went to school to study art and art theory, and I continue to view and critique contemporary art not just as something to do, but because art is my life.

    Kara Walker is brilliant, is my favorite contemporary artist, is an inspiration. To reduce the work of a black woman who is celebrated the world over, who received a genius grant at a relatively young age, who is faculty for a prestigious MFA program, and who was described to me personally by an artist I just finished working for as a wonderful person and excellent advisor – to reduce her work as fluff, and her intentions as merely for shock-value, is to grossly miss the point of her work and do a disservice to critical thinking of black history within an artistic framework.

    You don’t have to like it. She doesn’t make work that will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. It’s intentionally not easy art. The work is hard to swallow (which is why I love it). But don’t be so dismissive, please.

  • omg

    for me, it doesn’t matter that she’s been lauded by the art world. this is not about whether she’s a nice person either.

    i don’t find her work challenging. annoying yes. banal yes. a bit cliched yes. brilliant? no.

    i just don’t think anyone who knows their history, is well-read, etc. finds her work that deep.

    okay so whites and blacks have always had this unspoken, often violent sexual history with one another in this country. that white woman’s beauty and sexuality are elevated above all other women is not new. that they would want to live out their sexual fantasies with a black man is not new. blah blah blah.

    BUT, i think this is new to white people since many of them are woefully ignorant about race in this country and are lacking self-awareness and a sense of history. on top of that, they are most uncomfortable discussing race.

    and the idea that she is not interesting in shocking people or in being provocative is simply bizarre. of course she wants to be provocative. that’s why people pay attention to her.

    i also don’t believe that because an artist is lauded by the mostly white artistic world that i have to agree with who they present to me as a great artist, black or white.

    they are not always right you know. they pass up a lot of black talent. it’s sometimes curious the ones they choose to celebrate.

  • minna k.

    Kara Waker has art world pedigree.

    I am sure there are a few people that peruse this site that have studied art and art history, myself being one. But that should not be an issue. You don’t need some high-falutent art education to participate in this discussion, it doesn’t make one’s opinion any more valid.

  • e.c.

    omg & minna k., could you give some examples of black artists that you respect/are passed over by the art world?

    & hennessy youngman’s videos on art are def pretty spot on.

  • Elizabeth A

    I was working at a library when I was 20 years old when I first picked up a book by Kara Walker. I just begun my interest in black feminist thought and I was taken aback by the cut out silhouettes. I had confused Kara Walker with Alice Walker, and at the time I was thinking that this was an analysis of the Color Purple. I was mistaken but I was glad I read the book. It reminded me that even though I know much of my history in the U.S., there are many people out there that don’t. That the majority of the population and probably those abroad, had no idea how Blacks, primarily Black women and girls, were forced into sexual situations and coerced relationships.

    The silhouettes that Alice walker made forced people to look at those scenes and question why these were here. Sometimes once has to shock in order to force people to understand and learn what really happened for 300 years.

  • minna k.

    Yinka Shonibare. (shrugs) Really for nothing else other than the fact that his work is not only visually stimulating, but he also has real technical skills. I know that it says a lot about the art world currently. His work is interesting enough standing alone that it doesn’t require some over intellectualized commentary, or shock elements. Most of the times i’ve seen his work i didn’t really give a crap what it was about. ( Although i am annoyed at his “african as exotic” angle but i digress.)

    To be honest e.c. I am hard pressed to find any ” black” artists that I feel don’t share the same brain ( ie Kara walker and Glen Ligon), have really come with something original to say, don’t make intentionally “ignorant”(looking) art or have even deviated from the constant need to “tackle race and identity politics”, which to me is a dead horse.

  • S.

    omg & minna k.

    I would love to keep in touch with you guys… do u have a blog site?

  • isolde

    @minna k.

    LOL, you sound like my mom . . . hehe. She loathes Kara Walker! I’ve always thought that her silhouettes were fly. Mom thinks that much of Walker’s work is “ignorant looking,” stereotypical, and that she appeals to whites for all the reasons you and “omg” have already stated.

    I’ll admit that Walker’s use of black racial themes may seem redundant, but there’s a lot still to be said by black artists regarding race and identity politics. I’m a big fan of Iona Rozeal Brown, and how she tackles the concept of appropriation of black culture. I have two of her pieces, one acrylic and paper portrait, from her “blackface” series.

    (I can’t find my piece on the net, but here’s an example of similar pieces . . . of course, mom thinks it’s hideous)

    and a museum print for my cousin’s room (he’s 2)

    I kinda dig Wangechi Mutu, but she’s too famous for my wallet, and I can’t see myself hanging anything of her’s on my wall anyway. It would frighten the baby.

  • African Mami

    @ minna k,

    You should consider being an art critic because after reading your reviews, the “soul-shaking, thought provoking, kumbaya, even though I’m clueless praise ” comment I was going to leave would have been at jeopardy.

  • Mazuba

    I agree with Minna about Yinka Shonibare.Also check out Kehinde Whiley and Dawn Okoro.

  • Mazuba

    And I forgot to add Wangechi Mutu .

  • SRenda

    @minna k. or anybody:

    What’s “intentionally ignorant looking art”? Art that deviates from standard Western looking art? Art not taught in schools? Graffiti Art, Outsider Art, Naïve Art, Primitive Art, Comic Book Art? What is the artist ignorant of if they make art that appears as “ignorant looking”? From what lens is the observer viewing art then? If we, black or white, view art through the limited, biased standards of a dominant culture much of the other art created outside of this or even as a reaction to this might appear ignorant looking. That is, art that doesn’t necessarily adhere accurately to the so-called realities of physical anatomy, art that doesn’t rely on drawing or painting what you see accurately and so on. Unless you mean, negative, stereotypical art such as Mammy Dolls, Black Sambos and so on, then I think I understand you better. Although, that art can be worthwhile, too. It just depends…

    I believe much of this art or art like Kara Walker’s is just too uncomfortable for us to engage with because it dredges up feelings that still linger powerfully around the world. Great art reveals the true soul of humanity even when it appears as if humanity has moved on. The beaten, “dead horse” of Kara Walker’s art is the un-dead horse(s) of racism, sexism and colonialism. No amount of shocking silhouettes she continues to create will keep these “isms” from dying nor does she re-invigorate these “isms” with life by continuing to create them. To me she seems like a sista trying to purge herself of some serious demons. If she is just doing this for money (it’s never just for money, I think this is just a way for people to separate others from their actions or ourselves from the things we do) my feelings on this still remain the same.

  • DelphineBlue

    At this point, I feel Walker’s famous original Victorian era theme keeps the horror of racial hatred at a safe distance. Too many White people equate genuine racism only with slavery.

    I had a White hipster friend “explain” to me once in reaction to my dislike of Walker’s never changing work: ‘you have to understand, Walker brings us to such an ugly place that you can’t deny’ and I wanted to shout Oh do tell, White dude who took a few history classes and is now an expert on Black pain?!’ I get that the romantic silhouettes lure you until you realize you’re looking at a nightmare—and she has not moved beyond that as far as I know. That image above looks like a graphic design course typography assignment.

    My school had life size pieces of hers with these images and I could only think yes, I know helpless Black people were victimized by deviant whites—Can we take this conversation further at least a decade into her career?No these horrors should NEVER be forgotten and many people don’t know how millions of people suffered, but my issue with Walker’s work not evolving past the shock is that this horror is something WE have been living with generations. Yet many Whites still regard racism as something that happened in the past, I wonder if she created this same theme with contemporary imagery (say, silhouettes carrying Tea Party signs), would she still be an art world darling.

  • Lex

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • Nell

    if you do not like Kara’s artwork, don’t like it. but do not reduce it to “fluff” or “boring. not only does that oversimplify her artwork and art overall, but it also seems to lack any legitimate criticism.
    while many of us (people of color) may know these themes, and understand the extent at which rape, molestation and miscegenation went in during the slavery eras, it is still not tackled at the level she tackles it. public schools almost never discuss the frequency of rape and molestation done by white men to black women. very few artists have even attempted to place the black woman as the recurring character as much as Kara Walker. yes, her artwork has been featuring slavery for some time now, but she is one of the (if not THE) ONLY artists doing this.

    and i would have to disagree that this type of revealing artwork is only new to white people. maybe you and your boogie friends who have the time to go to exhibit after exhibit and are academically educated know about this history and artwork, but i seriously doubt that the majority of Americans know the extent at which these types of things went on during slavery.

    and “tackling race and slavery” is far from being a “dead horse” @ Minna K. the only situation that would render that topic a “dead horse” is if the topic itself were a dead horse. many of the inner workings of slavery have only recently come to the surface and the issue of race and racism is alive and well. being a black person in the US is not negated when one becomes an artist. their art is from their perspective. and to act as if black artists need to move beyond that, when our society (and thus individual experiences) has yet to do so seems ludicrous.

    on another note, theres plenty of black artists that speak to the black experience aside from Wangechi Mutu and Kehinde Wiley – Kerry James Marshall, Michael Ray Charles, Carrie Mae Weems, Mickalene Thomas, and Robert Pruitt.

  • Joshua

    @ E.C. take a look at Martin Puryear.

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