New York, The Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery; Massachusetts, Williams College Museum of Art, Kara Walker: Narratives of a Negress, January - December 2003, p. 17, illustrated in colour
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Kara Walker at the Met: After the Deluge, March - August 2006, pp. 12-13, illustrated in colour
Widely known for her scholarship in art history, Walker draws on the cut-paper profile caricatures of August Edouart, John Miers and most significantly Moses Williams in the United States. Freed from slavery by Charles Willson Peale in 1802, Williams was an African-American profile-cutter and master of the so-called ‘Physiognotrace’ or ‘face-tracing’ machine. Williams was taught how to analyse and render putative ‘facial types’ with the use of black cardboard over pale or white backgrounds. It is by appropriating this medium – in which racist tropes and generalisations were perpetuated in a way that was presented as innocuous – that Walker’s work acquires so much of its power. In her 1994 Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as it Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart, which was exhibited at the Drawing Center, New York and first engendered her international fame, Walker depicts such cut-out figures performing an array of strange, sexual and violent acts; stripping the medium of its middle-class romance and revealing the nefarious assumptions of its privileged customer-base.
And yet, while such interpretations are invited by Walker, the work itself maintains a laconic distance from them. Born in a relatively integrated Californian suburb in 1969, Walker moved to Atlanta aged 13 and there she experienced her first real taste of discrimination and racism. Graduating from the Atlanta School of Art, Georgia and the Rhode Island School of Design, Walker was greatly influenced by Andy Warhol’s cool gaze, the re-configurations of Robert Colescott, and the philosophy of Adrian Piper. Walker represented the US at the Sao Paulo Biennial in 2002 with her work Slavery! Slavery! (1997), and in 2014, launched her breathtaking 75ft sculpture A Subtlety in the Domino sugar refining plant before its demolition.
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