Collection Artwork
Kara Walker (born Stockton, California, 1969)
The Emancipation Approximation [Scene 18]
screen print on Somerest 500G paper
image size: 44 x 34 in.
paper size: 44 x 34 in.
frame size: 44 7/8 x 34 3/4 x 2 in.
Gift of Michael Jenkins and Javier Romero
AP 5/5

Object Label

“I saw the silhouette and the stereotype as linked. Of course, while the stereotype, or the emblem, can communicate with a lot of people, and a lot can understand it, the other side is that it also reduces differences, reduces diversity to that stereotype.”
—Kara Walker

Kara Walker’s violent, disturbing narrative compresses time and place. She brings together references from her own life experiences and US antebellum documents and artifacts; the Greek myth of Leda and the swan, in which the god Zeus assumes the form of a swan to rape and impregnate the mortal Leda; silhouetting, a popular 18th- and 19th-century US art; Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation; the degrading humor of minstrelsy; the atrocities faced by people held as slaves in this country; and other material. In creating a new narrative mixing fact and fiction, Walker encourages us to examine our shared histories to better understand both past and present.

The silhouette form makes the viewer responsible for what is seen within and beyond the crisp black and white forms. In using only two colors for the imagined people and animals, Walker challenges binaries. Are certain figures immediately deemed “black” or “white”? What role do caricature and stereotype play in defining our understandings of racial identity?

From the exhibition: Beauty and Bite (July 20, 2019 – January 19, 2020)

Ongoing Research

Research on our collection is ongoing. If you have resources you’d like to share, please contact Associate Curator Rebecca McNamara.

Tang Collective Catalog

The late nineteenth-century United States saw a series of transformational political and social milestones: the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the collapse of the Confederacy and end of the Civil War, and the rise of feminist and abolitionist movements. The impacts of these shifts on Black lives, however, were negligible and uneven. Black women in particular were subject to perpetual violence post-emancipation and were forcefully excluded from social movements that claimed to fight for equality. In Kara Walker’s Scene 18 from The Emancipation Approximation, the contrasting colors of the silhouette and placement of the two figures remind me of white women’s ascendance within mainstream feminist movements that deny the value of BIPOC voices. During this current cultural moment of widespread awareness of systemic anti-Black racism, intersectionality in feminist activism is consequential; white women, myself included, must center the voices of Black women, nonbinary folks, and queer activists before our own. Personally, I can harness my platform as a white student at a predominantly white institution and as an intern at the Tang Museum to share the work of BIPOC artists and activists; simultaneously, I must call attention to the ways in which such spaces (higher education and art institutions) perpetuate racism.
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