“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’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)