Art of Kara Walker

“A lot of my works have been about the unexpected…”  — Kara Walker at Art21, 2003.

( by Art21 on Youtube)


Karen Walker, Darkytown Rebellion 2001, cut paper and projection on wall, 14 x 37 ft. (4.3 x 11.3 m), Collection Musee d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg

I really love Kara Walker’s works. Especially her light projection and video, film, and performance. Like her wall-sized murals and cyclorama, Kara Walker employs light projection to cast shadows and create all-encompassing environments for viewers. In Darkytown Rebellion Walker applies paper-cut silhouettes to the wall and then washes them with vibrant light from colored transparencies on several overhead projects placed on the floor of the gallery. Viewers are further involved with this installation as their shadows are also cast onto the wall as they walk through the space. In this way, visitors literally enter the narrative and the history it suggests through their own silhouettes.

“I knew for a while that I wanted to make a piece that tried to engage the space a little bit more directly than the pieces that are just cut paper on the wall. And I had been using the overhead projectors as a kind of a shadow-play tool. Not really as a tool for making the work—they’re usually hand-drawn. But I wanted to activate the space in a way and have these overhead projectors serve as a kind of stand-in for the viewer, as observers. And my thinking about the overhead projectors connected with my thinking about painting as far as creating an illusion of depth, but in a very mundane, flat, almost didactic way.” 10

10 Walker interviewed by Susan Sollins, Program 5: Stories. Art:21—Art in the 21st Century, Season 2, VHS and DVD (New York: PBS, 2003).

Image collected on a PmWiki

…the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea (working title), 2007, 16mm film and video transferred to DVD, black and white, sound; and plywood trees, dimensions variable. Courtesy of Karen Walker and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

Building on her work with the cyclorama, wall-sized murals, and light projections, Walker undertook a series of experiments with moving images in 2001. Using cut-paper puppets, hand-built stage sets, and Super 8 film in her studio, she began to animate the characters in her narratives.

This culminated in 2004 with her first film animation, Testimony: Narrative of a Negress Burdened by Good Intentions. Through texts that appear between scenes, she tells the story of a lynching of a plantation master and his statesman by their mistresses in an ironic inversion of power that crystallizes the constructs that Walker says sculpt her expression as a black woman.

Walker’s second black-and-white film and video piece, 8 Possible Beginnings or: The Creation of African-America, A Moving Picture by Kara E. Walker (2005), consists of eight grim fantasies that hypothesize the genesis of the black experience in America. Here she incorporates sound for the first time, and interweaves music, texts, film and spoken work to tell the story of “African-America.”

Walker plays the role of puppeteer in these films, yet she makes no attempt to hide her hands as she manipulates the puppets in the frame. During her 2005 solo exhibition at REDCAT on Los Angeles in 2005 that featured 8 Possible Beginnings, the artist staged live, improvised performances of the piece at the opening and closing of the show.

“It’s been a very slow leap… from the wall to the moving image. I went through the projection pieces first and then I hemmed and hawed on making a film for a long time. . . . I kept running across silhouette films from the early 20th Century and I thought that was just the logical next step. Just esthetically. But… I think because this work is very theatrical and because… the structure sort of referenced… you know, fall into these two camps, visual and literary. It almost screams for some kind of… merger of those worlds. Something theatrical in a real sense. I think, for a while, I resisted film because I kind of liked the stubbornness or obstinate quality of just looking at stationary images that kind of force you to make the connections.11

11 Walker interviewed by Philippe Vergne on June 20, 2006 at Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.  (source: Art of Karen Walker)


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