I was first introduced to the work of Kara Walker in university while watching PBS’s great series Art:21. She immediately stood out from the many other artists because of her medium and scale – large silhouette cut-outs – and the sublime imagery with which she explored her subject matter – power struggle involving race and gender.
The Big Deal
Kara Walker’s unique approach to her subject catches viewers off guard. Drawn in through the silhouette cut-outs – a medium which is usually reserved crafts done by children is turned on its head when applied to the serious topics of racism and sexism. Like stereotypes themselves, cut-outs simplify complex imagery while at the same time making bold statements. In this way Walker ropes viewers in and then confronts them with rich, often contradictory, imagery of good and evil.
Because of her evocative work, Walker showed at the Whitney Museum when she was just 27 years old and became a MacArthur Foundation fellow – one of the youngest ever. In 2007, at the age of 37, she was named one of Time Magazines 100 Most Influential People in The World.
Life in Brief
Kara Walker was born in 1969 in Stocton, California and moved to Atlanta, Georgia when she was thirteen. Her father – Larry Walker – was an artist and the art department’s chair at the University of the Pacific. It was her father who inspired her to be an artist at a very young age when she would watch in draw in his studio. With a focus on painting and printmaking she reviewed a BFA from the Atlanta College of Art in 1991 and then an MFA in 1994 from the Rhode Island School of Design. In 2002 she represented the U.S. at the Sao Paulo Biennele. Currently, Walker is lives and works in New York – she is the professor of visual arts at Columbia University’s MFA program.
Photo: Walker Art Center