Her work has commanded many adjectives. From graphic to un-ruly, fantastical to nightmarish, Kara Walker is a controversial and gifted artist who clearly possesses a method to her madness.
A native of Stockton, CA, Kara is the daughter of acclaimed artist, educator and administrator, Larry Walker. Her mother, Gwendolyn Walker, was an administrative assistant by day but she too harbored the desire to indulge her artistic talents. It was Kara’s time in California, growing up in an artistically rich and diverse environment that provided the perfect back drop to cultivate her interest in art. Even more so, it was the influence of her father that had the earliest impact on Kara’s desire to pursue art. She once said, “one of my earliest memories involves sitting on my dad’s lap in his studio in the garage of our house and watching him draw. I remember thinking: ‘I want to do that, too,’ and I pretty much decided then and there at age 2½ or 3 that I was an artist just like Dad.”
Perhaps the most profound impact on Kara’s development as an artist was her move to Georgia at the age of 13. Her father was looking to pursue a work opportunity at Georgia State University which required the family to relocate to the suburbs of Stone Mountain. Kara continued to hone her interest and education in art by concentrating on painting and printmaking at the Atlanta College of Art where she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts. She went on to receive her Master of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design. It wasn’t long before her art began to gain critical acclaim through exhibitions in such renowned museums as the Whitney Museum of American Art, in New York. At the age of 27, she became the youngest recipient of the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grant. In 2002 she represented the United States in the São Paulo Biennial in Brazil. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and is included in the collections of major museums worldwide including New York’s Museum of Modern Art. In 2007 Kara revealed her first full-scale U.S. museum survey titled Kara Walker: My Complement, My Oppressor, My Enemy, My Love organized by the Walker Art Center. Currently she lends her talent to Columbia University as a professor in the Visual Arts program.
Kara is best known for her strikingly real, black silhouette cut outs depicting raw and complicated imagery of themes from the antebellum south. Themes of racism, slavery, sexism, violence and more. Her art is haunting to the point of stopping the viewer in their tracks and provocative enough to spark endless debate and speculation. Kara had this to say about her art, “I didn’t want a completely passive viewer. Art means too much to me. To be able to articulate something visually is really an important thing. I wanted to make work where the viewer wouldn’t walk away; he would either giggle nervously, get pulled into history, into fiction, into something totally demeaning and possibly very beautiful. I wanted to create something that looks like you. It looks like a cartoon character, it’s a shadow, it’s a piece of paper, but it’s out of scale. It refers to your shadow, to some extent to purity, to the mirror.” Take a look at some of these images and see for yourself.