Monday, 11 January 2021

Kara Walker at EMST

Kara Walker at the Museum of Contemporary Art, (EMST), Athens.

Having missed going to art galleries because of the lockdown in the UK in the spring, once we got to Greece, where the pandemic situation was much calmer, we went to a lot of exhibitions. Knowing that there would be another lockdown in the UK in the winter, I refrained from posting much on art, saving it for the long, dark, grim winter ahead. In the coming weeks and months I will be revisiting some of those exibitions we visited and enjoyed.

Untitled, Kara Walker, 1996 (cut paper and paper mounted on canvas)

Painter, silhouettist, print-maker, installation artist and film-maker, Walker is an artist who explores race, gender, sexuality, violence and identity in her work. 

She is best known for her room-size tableaux of black cut-paper silhouettes. The silhouette is essential to the meaning of her work. It is a potent metaphor for the steotype, which, as she puts it, also 'says a lot with very little information'. The silhouette also allows Walker to play tricks with the eye. There is often not enough information to determine what limbs belong to which figures, or which are in front and behind, ambiguities that force us to question what we know and see. 

At first, the figures in period costume seem to hearken back to an earlier, simpler time. That is, until we notice the horrifying content: nightarish vignettes illustrating the history of the American South. Drawing from sources ranging from slave testimonials to historical novels, Walker's world features mamminies, picaninnies, sambos and other brutal steoreotypes in a host of situations that are frequently violent and sexual in nature. Furthermore, her use of silhouettes allows her to exhibit more violent truth because silhouettes do not show facial expressions.  Initial audiences condemned her work as obscenely offensive, and the art world was divided about what to do. Was this a step backward or forward for racial politics? Several decades later, Walker continues to make audacious, challenging statements that question and challenge.

Her images are really about racism in the present, and the vast social and economic inequalities that persist in dividing America. Racism is a topic most white Amercans are afraid to discuss and admit. Walker wants viewers uncomfortable with the subject to think about why racism is challenging for them to confront. More like riddles than one-liners, these are complex, multi-layered works that reveal their meaning slowly and over time.

For more of her work go here and here

No comments:

Post a Comment