Kara Walker is one of the most successful and widely known contemporary African American artists today; she is remarkable for her radical engagement with issues of race, gender, and sexuality and the media with which she pursues her studies. Though mainly celebrated for her provocative installations, composed of cut-paper silhouettes, Walker’s work in other media is equally strong and expands on the many powerful themes and questions of her practice.
Walker’s selection of particular media is both aesthetic and conceptual. Often using outmoded technologies or old-fashioned techniques, she draws on the historical memory of her media, bringing her contemporary perspective into confrontation with the artifacts of history. Explaining the importance of historical representation for contemporary life, Walker explained, “One theme in my artwork is the idea that a Black subject in the present tense is a container for specific pathologies from the past and is continually growing and feeding off those maladies....” By looking carefully at a selection of Walker’s projects in different media, this exhibition will emphasize the interface between technique and concept in her work. Walker’s use of historically inflected techniques investigates the question: “How is contemporary identity shaped and affected by the imagery from the past?”
Kara Walker is both prolific and innovative. The projects presented in this exhibition will display the range of approaches she has taken to subject matter, historical narrative, artistic media and technique, and the complexities and ambiguities of racial and historical representation. By highlighting the obscure references and old-fashioned techniques of Walker’s artistic process, Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker’s Tales of Slavery and Power will illuminate the rigorously researched underpinnings of Walker’s work with the aim to make her provocative approach accessible to a diverse audience.
This retrospective of prints, featuring works from the series Emancipation and Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War, as well as selected other prints, videos and a wall silhouette, is organized by the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon, Eugene, from the Portland, Oregon-based collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer.
The exhibition was curated by Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art Jessi DiTIllio, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon from the Portland, Oregon-based collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation.
MLK Days of Dialogue Series –
Left: Kara Walker (American, b. 1969), Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated): Alabama Loyalists Greeting the Federal Gun-Boats, edition 21/35, 2005, offset lithography and screenprint, 39 x 53 inches, collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation
Right: Kara Walker (American, b. 1969), The Emancipation Approximation (Scene #18), edition 7/20, 1999-2000, screenprint, 44 x 34 inches, collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation