NPR logo Kara Walker's Art Shocks, Subverts and Scintillates

Kara Walker's Art Shocks, Subverts and Scintillates

Kara Walker, Cut, Cut paper and adhesive on wall, Brent Sikkema NYC


The art of the silhouette may seem like child's play, but in the hands of controversial African-American artist Kara Walker, the Victorian-era medium is pushed to the cutting edge. On today's show, we spoke with Walker about her large scale exhibit at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles entitled: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love.

Walker's subversive works often exist in an aesthetically neutral space, wherein the images seem innocuous on first glimpse, often revealing nefarious narratives hidden underneath. The images are undeniable dialog starters, so take a look this interview with Art:21 and let's talk about it.

Multi-media artist/photographer/collagist Barbara Kruger describes Walker for Time's 100 People Who Shape Our World series in 2007:

Walker's vigilance has produced a compelling reckoning with the twisted trajectories of race in America. Her installations and films forcefully pluralize our notion of a singular "history." They create a profusion of backstories and revisions that slash and burn through the pieties of patriotism and the glosses of "color blindness." Restarting the engines of seemingly archaic methods, from the graphic affect of silhouette portraits to the machine-age ethos of film, she produces a cast of characters and caricatures with appetites for destruction and reproduction, for power and sex. She raucously engages both the broad sweep of the big picture and the eloquence of the telling detail. She plays with stereotypes, turning them upside down, spread-eagle and inside out. She revels in cruelty and laughter. Platitudes sicken her. She is brave. Her silhouettes throw themselves against the wall and don't blink.

Kara Walker, Keys to the Coop, 1997, linoleum cut.

But what do you think? Do you think her art is obscene? What limitations do you think curators of public museums should have when asking the eternal question "what is art?" Do you think Walker is trying to be sensationalist or is she really making a comment on society and art in general? Should art have to make a social comment?

About