Queen Kara Walker

Kara Walker (born November 26, 1969) is a contemporary African American artist who explores race, gender, sexuality, violence andidentity in her work. She is best known for her room-size tableaux of black cut-paper silhouettes.

Kara Walker first came to art world attention in 1994, when she was 24, with her mural at the Drawing Center in SoHo. It was a narrative panorama with a long, goofy, old-timey title: “Gone, An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart.” And it was made in an unusual way, from black-paper silhouette figures cut by hand and affixed to the gallery wall. It was a danse infernal of sex, slavery and chitlin-circuit comedy. “Gone” was an instant hit.  Race dominates everything, yet within it Ms. Walker finds a chaos of contradictory ideas and emotions. She is single-minded in seeing racism as a reality, but of many minds about exactly how that reality plays out in the present and the past.  Born in 1969, she grew up in an integrated California suburb. Her family moved to Atlanta when she was 13, and her life changed. Unlike California, integration had not been fully internalized. She was constantly reminded that she was black, and she was made to hurt for that.  Ms. Walker studied art, first in Atlanta, then at the Rhode Island School of Design. Influences included Andy Warhol, with his omnivorous eye and moral distance, and Robert Colescott, who inserted cartoonish Dixie sharecroppers into his version of van Gogh’s Dutch peasant cottages. By the time of the SoHo show Ms. Walker had found a nervy visual language to apply to her subject. She had success. She found a gallery; she received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.  Several African-American artists with careers dating from the 1960s publicly condemned Ms. Walker’s use of racial stereotypes as insulting and opportunistic, a way to ingratiate herself into a racist white art industry. In 1997 one of these artists tried to organize a museum boycott of her art. Ms. Walker responded with a vehement outpouring of diaristic drawings titled “Do You Like Creme in Your Coffee and Chocolate in Your Milk?” Some are text-heavy, direct-address and issue-specific: “What you want: negative images of white people, positive images of blacks.” Others are angry, funny, obsessive notes to self, examining race, racism, her own racism, her rejection of it and her dependence on it from many angles and various personas.

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