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Kara Walker

Born 1969 – United States

Kara Walker was raised in Atlanta, Georgia from the age of 13. She studied at the Atlanta College of Art (BFA, 1991) and the Rhode Island School of Design (MFA, 1994).

The New York-based artist works in a variety of media, including drawing, silhouette, prints, sculpture, installation and film. Her influential visual and conceptual provocations offer a powerful, palpable testament to collective phantasms of subjugation, repressed dimensions of human brutality, and psychosexual aspects of racism.

An uneasy balance of ornament and content characterizes Walker’s work. Her well-known wall works, for example, revive the genre of the profile silhouette, a nineteenth-century art form and leisure activity for women and girls of higher social classes. What at first appears as a dance of elaborate figures in historical costumes and a whirl of romantic, almost fairy-tale forms reveals itself to be a complex panorama of allegorical, quasi-pornographic scenes of violence.

"The silhouette says a lot with very little information," Walker says, "but that's also what the stereotype does. So I saw the silhouette and the stereotype as linked."

For A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby (2014), for instance, she created hybrid sculptures made of sugar, some several yards tall, in a disused sugar factory in Brooklyn. The work alluded to the sculptural language of racist stereotypes, but it also showed how closely the omnipresent food’s global triumph is tied to the history of slavery.

Walker’s works explore and illuminate the fictions of history that move inexorably through the present era, highlighting the fact that slavery is a psychosocial nightmare from which America has yet to awaken—a nightmare that continues to haunt all people, regardless of their ethnicity or skin color.

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