Kara Elizabeth Walker, born November 26, 1969, is an African American contemporary painter, silhouettist, printmaker, installation artist and film-maker who explores race, gender, sexuality, violence and identity in her work. Walker lives in New York City and has taught extensively at Columbia University. She is currently serving a five-year term as Tepper Chair in Visual Arts at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University.
Walker received her BFA from the Atlanta College of Art in 1991 and her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994.
Walker moved to her father’s native Georgia, at the age of 13, when he accepted a position at Georgia State University. This was a culture shock for the young artist: “In sharp contrast with the widespread multi-cultural environment Walker had enjoyed in coastal California, Stone Mountain still held Klu Klux Klan rallies. At her new high school, Walker recalls, “I was called a ‘nigger,’ told I looked like a monkey, accused didn’t know it was an ‘I accusation’ of being a ‘Yankee.'”
Walker’s influences include Adrian Piper’s “who played with her identity as a light-skinned black woman to flush racism out of hiding using” political self-portraits which address ostracism, otherness, racial “passing,” and racism, Andy Warhol, with his “omnivorous eye and moral distance”, and Robert Colescott, who inserted cartoonish Dixie sharecroppers into his version of Vincent van Gogh’s Dutch peasant cottages.
In response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Walker created “After the Deluge.” Bombarded with news images of “black corporeality,” including fatalities from the hurricane reduced to bodies and nothing more Walker likened these casualties to African slaves piled onto ships for the Middle Passage, the Atlantic crossing to America. “ I was seeing images that were all too familiar. It was black people in a state of life-or-death desperation, and everything corporeal was coming to the surface: water, excrement, sewage. It was a re-inscription of all the stereotypes about the black body.”
About the artist:
Kara Walker was born in Stockton, California, in 1969. She received a BFA from the Atlanta College of Art in 1991, and an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994. The artist is best known for exploring the raw intersection of race, gender, and sexuality through her iconic, silhouetted figures. Walker unleashes the traditionally proper Victorian medium of the silhouette directly onto the walls of the gallery, creating a theatrical space in which her unruly cut-paper characters fornicate and inflict violence on one another. In works like “Darkytown Rebellion” (2000), the artist uses overhead projectors to throw colored light onto the ceiling, walls, and floor of the exhibition space; the lights cast a shadow of the viewer’s body onto the walls, where it mingles with Walker’s black-paper figures and landscapes. With one foot in the historical realism of slavery and the other in the fantastical space of the romance novel, Walker’s nightmarish fictions simultaneously seduce and implicate the audience. Walker’s work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. A 1997 recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, Walker was the United States representative to the 2002 Bienal de São Paulo. Walker currently lives in New York, where she is on the faculty of the MFA program at Columbia University. (-an Art21 bio)
The Video was published on Dec 18, 2014: In her lecture “Sweet Talk,” the renowned artist Kara Walker explores the riddles of her life, work, and a 40-foot-tall sugar sphinx. (Introduction by Lizabeth Cohen, Dean, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies, Department of History, Harvard University.) In May 2014, Walker debuted her first sculpture, a monumental piece and public artwork entitled A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant. The massive work was installed in the derelict Domino Sugar Refinery in Brooklyn and commissioned by Creative Time. The installation consisted of a colossal female sphinx, measuring approximately 75-feet long by 35-feet high, preceded by an arrangement of fifteen life-size young male figures, dubbed attendants. The sphinx, which bore the head and features of the Mammy archetype, was made by covering a core of machine-cut blocks of polystyrene with a slurry of white sugar; Domino donated 80 tons of sugar for Walker’s piece. The smaller figures, modelled after racist figurines that Walker purchased online, were cast from boiled sugar (similar to hard candy) and had a dark amber or black coloring. After the exhibition closed in July 2014, the factory and the artwork were demolished as had been planned before the show. Walker has hinted that the whiteness of the sugar references its “aesthetic, clean, and pure quality.” The slave trade is highlighted in the sculpture as well. Walker also composed the “Lollipop” boys around the sphinx also made of sugar that has turned into molasses.
Remarking on the overwhelmingly white audience at the exhibition in tandem with the political and historical content of the installation, art critic Jamilah King argued that “the exhibit itself is a striking and incredibly well executed commentary on the historical relationship between race and capital, namely the money made off the backs of black slaves on sugar plantations throughout the Western Hemisphere. So the presence of so many white people — and my own presence as a black woman who’s a descendant of slaves — seemed to also be part of the show.”