Kara Walker


Kara Walker was born in Stockton, California, USA in 1969. When she was thirteen years old, her family moved to Atlanta, Georgia. There she studied art at the Atlanta College of Art (Bachelor of Fine Arts 1991) and then at the renowned Rhode Island School of Design (Master of Fine Arts 1994). In 2002 she accepted a professorship at Columbia University, New York. The artist lives and works in New York. Walker has received several awards to date. In 1997, she received a fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In 2007, she was elected to the National Academy of Design, and a year later she earned the Eileen Harris Norton Fellowship. In 2012, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2018, she was elected to the American Philosophical Society. The Royal Academy of Arts, London, named her an Honorary Royal Academician in 2019. Her works have found their way into renowned museums and public collections worldwide, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Tate Gallery, London; the Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI secolo (MAXXI), Rome; the Deutsche Bank Collection, Frankfurt a. M.; the Kupferstichkabinett of the Kunstmuseum Basel; and the Generali Foundation Collection - permanent loan at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg. For the Vienna State Opera, the artist designed the Iron Curtain for the 1998/1999 season as part of an exhibition series initiated by the museum in progress. Since the 1990s, Kara Walker has been causing a sensation with her large-scale, wall- and room-filling projections created by means of silhouettes and differently colored light sources. Parallel to this, she creates a wealth of virtuoso drawings in black and colored crayons, some with white heightening and notations. She works with film, video, transparencies and overhead projectors. The first impression of aesthetically pleasing scenic representations, reminiscent of lovely illustrations of fairy tales and children's stories, is deceptive. Walker sets subversive gaze traps that have become a typical feature of her art. With ruthless directness, the artist confronts the dark sides of American history, slavery along with the collective and personal traumas of the black population, who as victims of colonial exploitation in the American diaspora were deprived of their human dignity and exposed to all kinds of violence. At times she recounts true fates of individual persons and addresses apartheid as well as the racism of our present. Walker's reduction to the essential does not shy away from brutality and obscenity. She becomes the mouthpiece of a critical reappraisal of American history and delivers highly political commentary on our present. Kara Walker is one of the most prominent US artists today.

Additional biography

Like Felix Droese, Christian Boltaski, Andy Warhol, William Kentridge, Henrik Schrat and Annette Schröter, Kara Walker belongs to a group of artists who since the 1970s have (again) increasingly worked with extreme contrasts of light and shadow, cultivating silhouettes and silhouettes as a new means of expression in their artistic practice. The roots of this technique, also known as shadow or silhouette art, go back to antiquity and as far as Asia. In the 18th century, it gained great popularity among the wealthy classes in Europe and North America and served as entertainment for salon society. In the 19th century, silhouette became more artistic and imaginative and served to depict many a Biedermeier idyll, including themes of private retreat, romantic depictions of nature, floral still lifes, ornamentals, or dancing children's roundels, and found great favor with a wide audience. Kara Walker uses the silhouette, a historical medium of white, aristocratic as well as bourgeois society, to tell pictorial stories that only at first glance recall the fragile, fairy-tale-like silhouettes of the Biedermeier period, such as those by Hans Christian Andersen, one of the most famous fairy-tale poets. Ruthlessly - without regard to political correctness - the artist subjects the medium to a diametrical reevaluation of its codes and uses it to disillusion and dismantle any beautification and ideal world. Ingeniously, she uses the magic of the medium to awaken childlike curiosity in us to experience stories. Daughter of an artist and professor of art, very talented in drawing, Kara Walker considered becoming a cartoonist as a little girl. The step from this technique, which enables pointed, graphic statements by means of formal reduction, to the silhouette is obvious, whereby transitions to caricature are fluid. In contrast to the cartoon, the picture stories Walker tells are not based on a pictorial joke and she does not need words. The stories she tells us are existential, historically authentic, and trigger shame and consternation due to depressing individual fates. At second glance, the artist settles accounts with the dark abysses of the slave age, which came to an end with the defeat of the Southern states in the American Civil War (1861-65). The human and social injustices against the black population, however, did not come to an end, but continue to our present day. Walker addresses racial stereotypes, exposes the stigmas of reducing people to categories, poses historical and contemporary questions about black identity, and does so against the backdrop of her own experiences as an artist regarding debates about the distinction between "black art" and "art." Relentlessly, Walker brings to light the darkest chapters of U.S. culture, shaking up images of history and keeping the past alive without resonating with reconciliation. The silhouette is, in the literal sense, a "dark" medium created through the incisive use of scissors, blades, or lasercuts. The loss of perspective, interior design, and detail results in a reduction to stark chiaroscuro contrasts and hard silhouettes. Black creates the impression of the abysmally threatening; black transforms all the people involved, regardless of their skin color, into shadows that rise out of the darkness of the story and, as a counter-image, bring the hidden to light. In her student days, Walker came across Adrian Piper, among others, and produced a small performance piece on paper. Through her engagement with the conceptual artist, she realized - according to her own statement - that the audience, the viewers, have their own stories and points of view that cannot be included in the creation of artworks, but have a direct impact on the reception. This realization leads to the important conclusion that Kara Walker's art ties to human experiences that transcend the context of ethnicity. She appeals to an individual self-discovery vis-à-vis historical images and myths of collective belonging, and questions attitudes and prejudices common to people around the world, regardless of skin color, because she asks herself the question, "Who am I beyond this skin I'm in?". (Doris Leutgeb)

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