artist of the day #27: Kara Walker

I am not sure where to start with this next artist, she is controversial, clever, and powerful. Kara Walker is the youngest person ever to receive the MacArthur “genius” grant at age 27. She has received both criticism and acclaim for her bold confrontation with big issues like racism, sexuality, slavery, and rape. Working almost exclusively with silhouettes, Walker has managed to tell complex and often terrifying stories. Often inspired by unfinished folklore she expresses scenes that need to be explored and picked apart. It is not work that can be understood easily. One needs to spend some time with it and really analyze what is going on.

Fact, fiction, and fantasy are often intertwined in her work and one must really evaluate what truths are being stretched and try to understand why. The setting for much of her work is often a pre-Civil War south where she comments on the crimes of slavery and the unbalance of hierarchy. She plays with the lines drawn between white and black by illustrating all of her characters in a stark black silhouette. Viewers have to sit and try to pick apart who is who and calls us to question our own assumptions. Why do we assume the man with the whip is white and the man being whipped is black when both are portrayed in the same color?

Typically we are used to silhouettes and shadow puppets telling us very playful and harmless tales. So amongst other things, Walker is calling us to question the vehicles in which we share our stories. She has worked in slightly similar mediums, but the shadows and silhouettes are what she has come to be known for. She continues to be active as an artist and also assists with much of the goals and programming at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.