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?



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I love that her work skirts the profane and the sacred, both in the images explored and in their almost dainty execution. This mirrors everyday life in America because race is that charged, yet severely covert, hidden and pushed from the agenda like the white elephant we all choose to ignore.

Sent by Diepiriye S. Kuku (dee-ep-pre-yeah) | 10:50 PM | 3-7-2008

I saw Kara Walker's exhibit at the Whitney and I loved it. The first time I saw Kara's work was over 10 years ago in Cincinnati She is a genius, and I so glad that News and Notes interviewed Kara.

Sent by Nichelle | 3:54 PM | 3-8-2008

The issue of race in this country is far from past tense as politicians and commentators would have us believe. Art is a way of expressing things that are otherwise ill-received. I applaud this artist and acknowledge her courageous journey into a forlorn space filled with ignorance and denial and marked by still derisive and unrelenting boundaries.

Sent by Eric M. Balingit | 5:40 PM | 3-8-2008

Well I'll have to break away from the pack on this one. I heard of her before but I had never seen her work or heard her interviewed. I wasn't impressed. Then I went to the blog to see her work, ok still not impressed. It all just felt like negative fluff. Oh well one person's trash is another forums treasure.

Sent by Melle G | 9:29 PM | 3-10-2008

this picture is weired it doesnt really look like anything really it just looks like some demonic thing im not saying that the illustator is thinking about demonic things but thats just my opinion its obviously not a fact

Sent by shawaneky | 10:24 AM | 3-20-2008