Exhibition Review: Kara Walker

Kara Walker – Camden Arts Centre

As part of this exhibition, Kara Walker presents her work in three galleries. In the first gallery we are surrounded by large silhouettes presented on three walls, two of which have black silhouettes on white walls and one large black wall with white silhouettes. On the opposite is a graphite drawing, ‘Sketch For An American Comic Opera With 20th Century Race Riots’ (2012).

I find Walker’s use of the cut paper silhouettes on blank walls intriguing. The fact that she uses these silhouettes, strips back so much detail yet also provides you with a lot too. From the outset most silhouettes look like innocent figures in battle yet the more and closer you look at them, you realise that there is a lot of explicit imagery present.

Leading on from this, gallery two presents six graphite and pastel drawings on paper, which seem to continue with a sort of obscene nature. Whilst looking at the work it made me question whether Walker wanted to create humour, was she taking the piss? However looking at these works, the imagery is quite striking and I couldn’t help but feel there was more depth to them, that there was story behind them.

Gallery three presented Walker’s ‘Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale’ (2011) seventeen minute video of an unscripted shadow play which she performed in her studio. In this play she continues with the use of silhouettes, creating puppet like figures with the combination of Southern American music. Some scenes are quite graphic depicting slavery, showing beating and again scenes of a sexual nature.

Kara Walker produced this exhibition after undertaking research into the White Supremacist movement and gun culture in the U.S. Her work disregards any taboo around the subject as she explores underlying racial and gender conflicts, combining the historical documents of slavery with contemporary racial issues.

Walker says her work is made for non-black women. Through her work I think she is trying to push the boundaries of ‘the taboo’ trying to engage the audience to see her ‘peculiar vision’. I find her silhouette work is very strong, as she is removing the face, stripping back everything and allowing the silhouette to stand-alone.

Walkers work can be related to the work of Kenyan-born Wangechi Mutu. Mutu does not make work in a historical context but her work is as disturbing as Walker’s.  She creates instinctive collages readjusting sexualized representations of women, which seem to be more pornographic than critical.

Walker also pushes boundaries when presenting her work, placing her silhouettes directly on the gallery wall itself creating a bigger impact on the audience, with some of the silhouettes being as big as the viewer. When viewing the exhibition the curator in the room expressed that the work is perceived well by the audience and gets a positive reaction despite that on the surface it seems quite innocent when in fact it is not.

From looking at Kara Walker’s exhibition I could perhaps take the idea of  ‘removing the face’ and apply it to my own work, maybe not in the literal sense but applying the idea of stripping back and creating patterns that stand out as bolder elements.


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