Fem Art Friday Feature: Kara Walker
Contemporary artist Kara Walker deals with the complicated issues of race, gender, and sexuality in her art pieces. These themes are often explored through her well-known silhouettes pieces. In her own words…
“I was really searching for a format to sort of encapsulate, to simplify complicated things…And some of it spoke to me as: ‘it’s a medium…historically, it’s a craft…and it’s very middle-class.’ It spoke to me in the same way that the minstrel show does…it’s middle class white people rendering themselves black, making themselves somewhat invisible, or taking on an alternate identity because of the anonymity … and because the shadow also speaks about so much of our psyche. You can play out different roles when you’re rendered black, or halfway invisible.” [Source]
I have never really been totally sure of how I feel about Kara Walker. All my reading suggests that younger artists of color like her alright, white artists love to legitimize her as the quintessential racial firebrand of the art community, but older artists of color tend to think of her as exploitative - some of her more elaborate pieces feature voice recordings of her and her daughter whispering, “I wish I were white.”
I always find it to be suspicious when an artist of color is suddenly extremely popular with a very white Art World, particularly because that world somehow manages to laud Frida Kahlo and somehow still ignore her very strong political leanings.
At the end of the day, I’m always glad to see an woman of color asserting a very big presence in an otherwise quite pale Art World. And while it’s definitely not my place to say whether or not it’s problematic because Walker’s engagement of a discourse on Blackness in America, I am curious to know how my fellow artists of color see her work.