Kara Walker

Kara Walker. Photo: Ari Marcopoulos

 

Kara Walker’s (*1969) unique oeuvre casts light on the history of slavery in the United States and its enduring legacy. The New York-based artist works in a variety of media, including drawing, silhouette, prints, sculpture, installation and film. Her influential visual and conceptual provocations offer a powerful, palpable testament to collective phantasms of subjugation, repressed dimensions of human brutality, and psychosexual aspects of racism.

 

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An uneasy balance of ornament and content characterizes Walker’s work. Her well-known wall works, for example, revive the genre of the profile silhouette, a nineteenth-century art form and leisure activity for women and girls of higher social classes. What at first appears as a dance of elaborate figures in historical costumes and a whirl of romantic, almost fairy-tale forms reveals itself to be a complex panorama of allegorical, quasi-pornographic scenes of violence. The full horror of what is being portrayed usually hits the viewer only at the second glance. The often wall-filling narratives of Walker’s silhouettes counter more than the still-rampant nostalgia in our understanding of history. The repressed history of slavery and racist violence returns here as an uncanny roundelay of images—a roundelay that also confronts viewers with their own, internalized racist images and stereotypes.

Walker’s work has in some respects become even more radical in the course of her career. The artist’s often large-format drawings and typographic prints—the Dust Jackets for the Niggerati (2011) cycle, for example—consistently refuse any kind of ornamental enchantment. While the silhouettes were based on a recourse to the popular historical visual languages of the nineteenth century, Walker focuses here on the visual and textual language of the early twentieth century. The works convey their disquieting content even more blatantly and often directly show the brutal violence black people endured even after slavery’s abolition. Or they quote documents illuminating the extent to which slavery still lives on today in racist clichés such as the “mammy.”

Walker pursues a similar strategy in films like Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale (2011). Here, she makes formal reference to the historical shadow puppet theater and early magic lantern projections of the nineteenth century while resolutely thwarting their idyllic potential. The phantasmagorical narratives of sex and violence typical of the artist’s work are taken to the extreme, evoking a whole new level of derangement.

Walker eventually added another facet to her work with sensational installation interventions. For A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby (2014), for instance, she created hybrid sculptures made of sugar, some several meters tall, in a disused sugar factory in Brooklyn. The work alluded to the sculptural language of racist stereotypes, but it also showed how closely the omnipresent food’s global triumph is tied to the history of slavery.

Kara Walker’s works explore and illuminate the fictions of history that move inexorably through the present era, highlighting the fact that slavery is a psychosocial nightmare from which America has yet to awaken—a nightmare that continues to haunt all people, regardless of their ethnicity or skin color.

 

Kara Walker: Fons Americanus
Hyundai Commission, Tate Modern, Turbine Hall, London, October 2, 2019–April 5, 2020
© Tate, London 2019

Works
Kara Walker
Kara Walker
A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant, 2014

Kara Walker
A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant, 2014
Polystyrene foam, sugar
1080 × 790 × 2300 cm
425 1/8 × 311 × 905 1/2 inches

Kara Walker
Kara Walker
…calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea., 2007

Kara Walker
…calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea., 2007
Video, color
9:10 min

Kara Walker
Kara Walker
THE SOVEREIGN CITIZENS SESQUICENTENNIAL CIVIL WAR CELEBRATION, 2013

Kara Walker
THE SOVEREIGN CITIZENS SESQUICENTENNIAL CIVIL WAR CELEBRATION, 2013
Cut paper and adhesive on wall
Installation variable, approximately 470 × 2000 cm
Installation variable, approximately 185 1/8 × 787 3/8 inches

Kara Walker
Kara Walker
White Space, 2010

Kara Walker
White Space, 2010
Graphite and pastel on paper
182.9 × 173.4 cm
72 × 68 1/4 inches

Kara Walker
Kara Walker
Another Ancestor, 2010

Kara Walker
Another Ancestor, 2010
Graphite and pastel on paper
182.9 × 205.7 cm
72 × 81 inches

Kara Walker
Kara Walker
The Katastwóf Karavan, 2017

Kara Walker
The Katastwóf Karavan, 2017
Steel frame mounted to lumber running gear, aluminum, red oak and muslin wall panels, propane fired boiler, water tank, gas generator, brass and steel 38-note steam calliope, calliope controller panel with MIDI interface, iPad controller with QRS PNO software
368.1 × 548.6 × 254 cm
145 × 216 × 100 inches

Kara Walker
Kara Walker
…calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea. I was transported., 2007

Kara Walker
…calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea. I was transported., 2007
5-channel video installation, color, stereo sound
11:00 min

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Kara Walker
Kara Walker
Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi's Blue Tale, 2011

Kara Walker
Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi's Blue Tale, 2011
Video, color, sound
17:00 min

Kara Walker
Kara Walker
Shifty Shape Shifter, 2016

Kara Walker
Shifty Shape Shifter, 2016
Cut paper on paper
96.5 × 127 cm
38 × 50 inches

Kara Walker
Kara Walker
Miss Pipi Title, 2011

Kara Walker
Miss Pipi Title, 2011
Unique ink transfer on paper
226.1 × 182.9 cm
89 × 72 inches

Kara Walker
Kara Walker
Testimony, 2005

Kara Walker
Testimony, 2005
Set of five photogravures
4 prints: 41.9 × 55.2 cm / 16 1/2 × 21 3/4 inches
1 print: 16.5 × 22.2 cm / 6 1/2 × 8 3/4 inches
Sheet: 57.2 × 78.7 cm / 22 1/2 × 31 inches

Kara Walker
Kara Walker
Pastoral, 1998

Kara Walker
Pastoral, 1998
Wall painting in black
177.8 × 203.2 cm
70 × 80 inches

Kara Walker
Kara Walker
A Warm Summer Evening in 1863, 2008

Kara Walker
A Warm Summer Evening in 1863, 2008
Hand cut felt silhouette on wool tapestry
175 × 250 cm
69 × 98 3/8 inches

Details
Kara Walker

Kara Walker
A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant, 2014
Polystyrene foam, sugar
1080 × 790 × 2300 cm
425 1/8 × 311 × 905 1/2 inches

Kara Walker
A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant, 2014
Kara Walker

Kara Walker
…calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea., 2007
Video, color
9:10 min

Kara Walker
…calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea., 2007
Kara Walker

Kara Walker
THE SOVEREIGN CITIZENS SESQUICENTENNIAL CIVIL WAR CELEBRATION, 2013
Cut paper and adhesive on wall
Installation variable, approximately 470 × 2000 cm
Installation variable, approximately 185 1/8 × 787 3/8 inches

Kara Walker
THE SOVEREIGN CITIZENS SESQUICENTENNIAL CIVIL WAR CELEBRATION, 2013
Kara Walker

Kara Walker
White Space, 2010
Graphite and pastel on paper
182.9 × 173.4 cm
72 × 68 1/4 inches

Kara Walker
White Space, 2010
Kara Walker

Kara Walker
Another Ancestor, 2010
Graphite and pastel on paper
182.9 × 205.7 cm
72 × 81 inches

Kara Walker
Another Ancestor, 2010
Kara Walker

Kara Walker
The Katastwóf Karavan, 2017
Steel frame mounted to lumber running gear, aluminum, red oak and muslin wall panels, propane fired boiler, water tank, gas generator, brass and steel 38-note steam calliope, calliope controller panel with MIDI interface, iPad controller with QRS PNO software
368.1 × 548.6 × 254 cm
145 × 216 × 100 inches

Kara Walker
The Katastwóf Karavan, 2017
Kara Walker

Kara Walker
…calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea. I was transported., 2007
5-channel video installation, color, stereo sound
11:00 min

Kara Walker
…calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea. I was transported., 2007
Kara Walker
Kara Walker

Kara Walker
…calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea. I was transported., 2007 (detail)

Kara Walker
…calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea. I was transported., 2007
Kara Walker
Kara Walker

Kara Walker
…calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea. I was transported., 2007 (detail)

Kara Walker
…calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea. I was transported., 2007
Kara Walker
Kara Walker

Kara Walker
…calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea. I was transported., 2007 (detail)

Kara Walker
…calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea. I was transported., 2007
Kara Walker
Kara Walker

Kara Walker
…calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea. I was transported., 2007 (detail)

Kara Walker
…calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea. I was transported., 2007
Kara Walker

Kara Walker
Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi's Blue Tale, 2011
Video, color, sound
17:00 min

Kara Walker
Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi's Blue Tale, 2011
Kara Walker

Kara Walker
Shifty Shape Shifter, 2016
Cut paper on paper
96.5 × 127 cm
38 × 50 inches

Kara Walker
Shifty Shape Shifter, 2016
Kara Walker

Kara Walker
Miss Pipi Title, 2011
Unique ink transfer on paper
226.1 × 182.9 cm
89 × 72 inches

Kara Walker
Miss Pipi Title, 2011
Kara Walker

Kara Walker
Testimony, 2005
Set of five photogravures
4 prints: 41.9 × 55.2 cm / 16 1/2 × 21 3/4 inches
1 print: 16.5 × 22.2 cm / 6 1/2 × 8 3/4 inches
Sheet: 57.2 × 78.7 cm / 22 1/2 × 31 inches

Kara Walker
Testimony, 2005
Kara Walker

Kara Walker
Pastoral, 1998
Wall painting in black
177.8 × 203.2 cm
70 × 80 inches

Kara Walker
Pastoral, 1998
Kara Walker

Kara Walker
A Warm Summer Evening in 1863, 2008
Hand cut felt silhouette on wool tapestry
175 × 250 cm
69 × 98 3/8 inches

Kara Walker
A Warm Summer Evening in 1863, 2008
Details
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Current and Upcoming
Kara Walker
Kara Walker, Barack Obama as Othello "The Moor" With the Severed Head of Iago in a New and Revised Ending by Kara E. Walker, 2019. © Kara Walker

Kara Walker
A Black Hole is Everything a Star Longs to Be: Kara Walker, Drawings 1993-2020
Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel
June 6–September 26, 2021

Throwing open the doors to her personal archive that she has closely guarded for the past twentyseven years, Kara Walker (b. 1969) presents hundreds of drawings from her studio. The Kupferstichkabinett Basel displays these treasures together with brand-new works by the world-famous American artist in her first extensive solo exhibition in Switzerland.

Link
Exhibitions at Sprüth Magers
Kara Walker

Kara Walker
THE SOVEREIGN CITIZENS SESQUICENTENNIAL CIVIL WAR CELEBRATION
March 11–June 21, 2020
Berlin

This new exhibition of work by Kara Walker will present her film work National Archives Microfilm M999 Roll 34: Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands: Six Miles from Springfield on the Franklin Road, 2009, alongside a monumental 2013 installation piece that is a brilliant example of Walker’s silhouetted wall works – entitled THE SOVEREIGN CITIZENS SESQUICENTENNIAL CIVIL WAR CELEBRATION.

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Kara Walker
From Black and White to Living Color: The Collected Motion Pictures and Accompanying Documents of Kara E. Walker, Artist.
October 4–December 21, 2019
London

Film has long played a crucial role in Kara Walker’s groundbreaking artistic practice. Eight of Walker’s films highlight her diverse approach to filmmaking, signature use of silhouettes, and insightful handling of space, sound and time to expose profound and enduring historical traumas and narratives. The exhibition will also include an array of artefacts that shed light on Walker’s process as she conceives of and composes her films. Shot lists, handwritten notes, cut-and-pasted lines of text, sketches and puppets are interspersed with the artist’s moving images, deepening our understanding of her films and her expansive practice of unforgettable work across mediums. 

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Kara Walker
Kara Walker

Eau de Cologne
Rosemarie Trockel, Cindy Sherman, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Astrid Klein, Marlene Dumas, Kara Walker, Cady Noland
March 27–April 12, 2019
Hong Kong

Eau de Cologne began as a series of exhibitions and three publications, organized by Monika Sprüth between 1985 and 1989, which sought to create a new dialogue around contemporary art. The exhibitions introduced a select group of young women artists, each of whom individually represented powerful attitudes and practices.

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Kara Walker
April 28–September 8, 2018
Berlin

Kara Walker's work is well known for the incisive connections it draws between the legacy of slavery in the United States, the evolution of historical narratives and cultural beliefs, and contemporary race relations. Since the 1990s, her silhouetted wall works, drawings, and videos have treaded an uncomfortable line between beauty and violence, attraction and repulsion, and past and present, and she is recognized equally for her skillful draftsmanship and her trenchant storytelling. Sprüth Magers is honored to exhibit Walker's video Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale (2011), a work that highlights the artist's compelling approach to difficult but crucially relevant subject matter.

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Kara Walker
Kara Walker

POWER
Beverly Buchanan, Elizabeth Catlett, Sonya Clark, Renee Cox, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Karon Davis, Minnie Evans, Nona Faustine, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Ellen Gallagher, Leslie Hewitt, Clementine Hunter, Steffani Jemison, Jennie C. Jones, Simone Leigh, Julie Mehretu, Sister Gertrude Morgan, Senga Nengudi, Lorraine O'Grady, Sondra Perry, Howardena Pindell, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, Joyce J. Scott, Emmer Sewell, Ntozake Shange, Xaviera Simmons, Lorna Simpson, Shinique Smith, Renee Stout, Alma Woodsey Thomas, Mickalene Thomas, Rosie Lee Tompkins, Unknown, Kara Walker, Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Carrie Mae Weems, Brenna Youngblood
Work By African American Women From The Nineteenth Century To Now
March 28–June 10, 2017
Los Angeles

Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, is proud to present POWER, an exhibition curated by Todd Levin that surveys the work of African American women artists from the nineteenth century to now. Titled after the 1970 gospel song by Sister Gertrude Morgan, the exhibition begins with artists born soon after the Civil War and continues to the present, weaving together fine and folk art traditions to explore how artists have engaged issues of race, gender, and class against our evolving cultural and artistic landscape. The 37 artists in POWER draw into focus their struggle to establish themselves as equal players on the uneven field of the American republic.

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Press

Kara Walker
Flash Art, article by Henry Broome, November 2019 – January 2020

Taking a Jab At Britannia
The New York Times, review by Siddhartha Mitter, October 1, 2019

Hilton Als on the Films of Kara Walker
Frieze, article by Hilton Als, September 26, 2019

Southern discomfort: Kara Walker to take over Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall this autumn
The Art Newspaper, article by Gareth Harris, March 11, 2019

Kara Walker’s Powerful Work Upends How We See Race in America
Artsy, article by Yxta Maya Murray, February 12, 2019

Kara Walker’s Next Act
Vulture, article by Doreen St. Félix, April 2017

Kara Walker’s Thought-Provoking Art
The Wall Street Journal, article by Carol Kino, November 5, 2014

Sugar? Sure, but Salted With Meaning
The New York Times, article by Roberta Smith, May 11, 2014

Art Innovator: Kara Walker
Wall Street Journal Magazine, article by Carol Kino, May 8, 2014

Kara Walker, the puppet master of the American south
The Guardian, article by Adrian Searle, October 11, 2013

In The Studio: Kara Walker
Art in America, article by Steel Stillman, April 23, 2011

The Shadow Act: Kara Walker’s vision.
The New Yorker, article by Hilton Als, October 1, 2007

Biography

Kara Walker (*1969, Stockton, CA). Selected solo exhibitions include Kunstmuseum Basel (2021), Tate Modern, Turbine Hall, London (2019), Domino Sugar Refinery, Brooklyn, New York (2014), Camden Arts Centre, London (2013), Art Institute of Chicago (2013), Center for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw (2011), Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, Museum of Modern Art, Fort Worth (both 2008), Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, ARC/Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Whitney Museum, New York (both 2007) and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2006). Selected group exhibitions include Prospect.4, New Orleans (2017), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2015) and MAXXI, Rome (2013). She participated in the 11th Havana Biennial (2012), 52nd Venice Biennale (2007) and Whitney Biennial, New York (1997).

Education
1994 M.F.A., Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI
1991 B.F.A., Atlanta College of Art, Atlanta, GA
Public Collections
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Art Institute of Chicago
Baltimore Museum of Art
British Museum, London
Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica, CA
Brooklyn Museum, New York
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA
Cleveland Museum of Art
The Columbus Museum, Columbus, GA
Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, HI
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR
Dallas Museum of Art
Denver Art Museum
Des Moines Art Center
DESTE Foundation, Athens
Deutsche Bank Collection, Frankfurt
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Foundation Museé d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg
FRAC des Pays de Loire, Carquefou, France
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Milwaukee Art Museum
Musee d’Art Moderne, Luxembourg
Museo nazionale delle Arti del XXI secolo (MAXXI), Rome
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Museum of Modern Art, New York
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Newark Museum, Newark, NJ
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane
Rubell Family Collection, Miami
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Studio Museum in Harlem, New York
Tate, London
Tucson Museum of Art, Tucson, AZ
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT