Kara Walker: Artist Portrait

Kara Walker

Born 1969.
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Kara Walker Biography

Contemporary artist Kara Walker investigates themes of race, identity, slavery and sexuality through a range of media. She is best-known for her room-installations of cut-paper silhouettes, which feature harrowing vignettes of violence and trauma taken from the history of the American South. She is also regarded for her video, painting, print-making and sculpture. Walker received her BFA from the Atlanta College of Art and her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Her profound synthesis of historical genres with theatrical installation produces effective, biting critique of American history.

Walker began her paper silhouettes in the 1990s, installing these directly onto the walls of exhibition spaces. Subverting the genteel portrait tradition, Walker creates seemingly elegant tableaux, which upon closer inspection, depict nightmarish scenes of slavery, sexual assault and physical brutality. The silhouettes invite questions regarding the nature of representing race in America, and provide an appropriate and horrific mirror of the attitudes and realities of the United States. In the 2000s, Walker began elaborating on her silhouette installations, with films and videos of her subjects in motion, combined these with contemporary atrocities from the 21st century, set to a score of Southern folk music. In 2014, Walker exhibited her first site-specific sculpture in the former Domino Sugar warehouse in Brooklyn, New York. Subtlety presented a massive Sphinx woman coated in white sugar, surrounded by thirteen boys in brown cast sugar or resin; the very use of sugar effectively and poignantly brought attention to complex and problematic sugar trade. Walker’s innovative use of media consistently challenges the connotations and realities of history and the world around us.

Walker was one of the youngest people to receive a MacArthur genius grant at the age of 28; in 2007, TIME magazine listed Walker in their 100 Most Influential People in the World, Artists and Entertainers. She has taught at Columbia University, New York, for over 15 years, and serves as the Tepper Chair in Visual Arts at the Rutgers University School of the Arts in New Jersey. Walker’s work appears in the collections of the Tate Collection, London; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Menil Collection, Houston; and many other major museums of contemporary art.

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Artist Image: 2014 Juergen Frank