I’ve never forgotten Kara Walker’s art. I was in the Tate Liverpool when I first saw one of her room-sized tableaux. It was a large room with white walls, covered in black cut-out silhouettes: a powerful and instantly recognisable style of antebellum stereotypes. Her depiction of mammies and masters arranged in a narrative sequence at first seemed reminiscent of a child’s fiction of that period. But on closer inspection the subject was far darker, tracing the history and grotesqueness of slavery in America: eroticised violence and humiliation. Taken down to flat caricatures, the black silhouettes hinted at a wider problem, much like stereotypes do in broader society.
The work of Kara Walker is set to dominate the Camden Arts Centre this October: an opportunity for a British audience to engage with the work of an exceptional and challenging African-American female artist. Her trademark silhouettes will takeover the wall space, which she will continue to produce as the month’s progress. She will also be exhibiting her shadow puppetry play Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale as well as her graphite drawings Niggerati.
Embedded in Walker’s work is a preoccupation with power, but in order to visualise this struggle, her work plays with themes of gender, race and sexuality. She is currently researching the white supremacist movement in America, creating visual narratives of contemporary issues with historical imagery. It’s serious stuff but intelligently and memorably expressed. And if you are wondering, it is definitely worth the slightly cumbersome journey to reach this gallery! Don’t miss it. (Words: Laura Thornley)
Kara Walker is showing at Camden Arts Centre from October 11 to January 5, 2014. For more info, visit: www.camdenartscentre.org