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Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love

Kara Walker was born in 1969 in Stockton, California; she received her Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree from the Atlanta College of Art in 1991 and her Masters of Fine Art from Rhode Island School of Design in 1994. Since that time, she has created more than 30 room-size installations and hundreds of drawings and watercolors, and has been the subject of more than 40 solo exhibitions. She currently lives in New York, where she is associate professor of visual arts at Columbia University, New York.

Monday I chose to go the Walker Art Center to view Kara Walkers exhibit; My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love. I chose this activity for the assignment, because I heard that the art was very moving and she used different ways to portray her feelings. She is the first person I have seen to use cut outs, it really stood out and much easier for me to see the meaning. I am not much of a painting enthusiast, but the way she portrays her work in the cut outs really stood out and moved me.

Below is a link to download one of her cut-outs, I could not get it to save onto my post.
Download file
Kara Walker, Excavated from the Black Heart of a Negress

Kara Walker began working on these cut out designs in 1993, while she was a graduate student at Rhode Island. She developed the interest in paper cut out silhouettes when she was researching art in the 19th century, where the aesthetic of art work was confused with a sense of exaggerated sentimentality or melodrama. To create a silhouette, Walker draws her images with a greasy white pencil or soft pastel crayon on large pieces of black paper, which she then cuts with an X-ACTO knife. As she composes her images, she thinks in reverse, in a way, because she needs to flip the silhouettes over after she cuts them. The images are then adhered to paper, canvas, wood, or directly to the gallery wall with wax.
Kara Walker states, “I was really searching for a format to sort of encapsulate, to simplify complicated things...And some of it spoke to me as: ‘it's a medium...historically, it's a craft...and it's very middle-class.’ It spoke to me in the same way that the minstrel show does...it's middle class white people rendering themselves black, making themselves somewhat invisible, or taking on an alternate identity because of the anonymity ... and because the shadow also speaks about so much of our psyche. You can play out different roles when you're rendered black or halfway invisible.?("Conversations with Contemporary Artists" (New York: Museum of Modern Art 1999) http://www.moma.org/onlineprojects/conversations/kw_f.html)
This art exhibit seemed to really follow what we had talked about in class about oppression and power. Most of Kara’s art is portraying power being taken away or given up. I found most of the art and shows in her exhibit to be very moving and strikingly honest. It was definitely a show for a mature audience, with many references to sex, especially with children. After seeing this show I understand how Kara is widely critiqued for the upfront images, some think to be vulgar, but I found it to be very different and interesting. The most shocking to me was the silent puppet show of a little boy who is one of the masters, forces an older gentleman to perform sexual favors for him. It was hard to watch these shows, but I can imagine these instances probably happened and you can really get the full effect of power over someone.

I really suggest for everyone in the class to go see the exhibit before it leaves May 11, it will really move you, but it is not for the faint of heart.


here's a video clip about the kara walker show: