Kara Walker

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Kara Walker
Walker cut.jpg
Cut, Cut paper and adhesive on wall, Brent Sikkema NYC.
Born(1969-11-26) November 26, 1969 (age 45)
Stockton, California, U.S.
EducationRhode Island School of Design
Known forCollage art
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Kara Walker
Walker cut.jpg
Cut, Cut paper and adhesive on wall, Brent Sikkema NYC.
Born(1969-11-26) November 26, 1969 (age 45)
Stockton, California, U.S.
EducationRhode Island School of Design
Known forCollage art

Kara Walker (born November 26, 1969) is a contemporary African-American artist who explores race, gender, sexuality, violence and identity in her work. She is best known for her room-size tableaux of black cut-paper silhouettes. Walker lives in New York and is on the faculty of the MFA program at Columbia University.


Walker was born in Stockton, California in 1969.[1] Her retired father, Larry Walker,[2] is a formally educated artist, a professor, and an administrator.[1] Her mother worked as an administrative assistant.[3]

“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.” —Kara Walker[4]

Kara Walker moved to her father's native Georgia[5] at the age of 13 when he accepted a position at Georgia State University. She received her BFA from the Atlanta College of Art in 1991 and her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994.[6] Walker first came to art world attention in 1994 with her mural Gone, An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart. This unusual cut-paper silhouette mural, presenting an old-timey south filled with sex and slavery was an instant hit.[7] At the age of 27 she became the second youngest recipient of the coveted John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grant, second only to renowned Mayanist David Stuart. In 2007 Walker Art Center exhibition Kara Walker: My Complement, My Oppressor, My Enemy, My Love was the artist’s first full-scale U.S. museum survey. Walker currently lives in New York, where she has been a professor of visual arts in the MFA program at Columbia University since 2001.[5][6] Influences include Andy Warhol, with his omnivorous eye and moral distance; and Robert Colescott, who inserted cartoonish Dixie sharecroppers into his version of Vincent van Gogh’s Dutch peasant cottages.[7]


Beginning with Gone: An Historical Romance of Civil War as it Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of a Young Negress and Her Heart (1994), Walker became known for her panoramic friezes of cut-paper silhouettes, usually black figures against a white wall, which address the history of American slavery and racism through violent and unsettling imagery.[8] Walker has produced works in ochre gouaches, video animation, shadow puppets, and "magic-lantern" projections, as well as a number of black-paper silhouettes,[9] perhaps her most recognizable works to date.

Walker's silhouette images work to bridge unfinished folklore in the Antebellum South, raising identity and gender issues for African American women in particular. However, because of her confrontational approach to the topic, Walker's artwork is reminiscent of Andy Warhol's Pop Art during the 1960s (indeed, Walker says she adored Warhol growing up as a child).[3] Her nightmarish yet fantastical images incorporate a cinematic feel. Walker uses images from historical textbooks to show how African American slaves were depicted during Antebellum South.[3] Some of her images are grotesque, for example, in The Battle of Atlanta, [10] a white man, presumably a Southern soldier, is raping a black girl while her brother watches in shock, a white child is about to insert his sword into a nearly-lynched black woman's vagina, and a male black slave rains tears all over an adolescent white boy.

Walker debuted a public exhibition at the The Drawing Center in New York City in 1994. Her installation Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as it Occurred between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart "polarized the New York art world".[9]

In response to Hurricane Katrina, Walker created "After the Deluge," since the hurricane had devastated many poor and black areas of New Orleans. Walker was bombarded with news images of "black corporeality," including fatalities from the hurricane reduced to bodies and nothing more. She likened these casualties to African slaves piled onto ships for the Middle Passage, the Atlantic crossing to America.[3]

In February 2009, Walker was included in the inaugural exhibition of Sacramouche Gallery, "The Practice of Joy Before Death; It Just Wouldn't Be a Party Without You." Recent works by Kara Walker include Frum Grace, Miss Pipi's Blue Tale (April–June 2011) at Lehmann Maupin, in collaboration with Sikkema Jenkins & Co. A concurrent exhibition, Dust Jackets for the Niggerati- and Supporting Dissertations, Drawings submitted ruefully by Dr. Kara E. Walker, opened at Sikkema Jenkins on the same day.[12]


In 2005, The New School unveiled Walker’s first public art installation, a site-specific mural titled Event Horizon and placed along a grand stairway leading from the main lobby to a major public program space.[13]

In May 2014, Walker debuted her first sculpture, a monumental piece entitled A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant. The massive work was installed in the disused Domino Sugar Refinery in Brooklyn and commissioned by Creative Time. The exhibition consisted of a giant female sphinx, measuring approximately 80-feet long by 40-feet high, and several life-size child-like figures, dubbed attendants. The sphinx was made by covering a polystyrene core with machine-cut blocks of white sugar, which were then further cut by hand and smoothed with a sugar slurry. Domino donated 80 tons of sugar for Walker's piece. The smaller figures were cast from boiled sugar (similar to hard candy) and had a dark amber or black coloring. The attendants were modelled after some figurines that Walker had purchased on Amazon.com. After the exhibition closes in July, the refinery will be demolished as had been planned before the show.[5][14][15][16]

Other projects[edit]

For the season 1998/1999 in the Vienna State Opera Kara Walker designed a large scale picture (176 m2) as part of the exhibition series "Safety Curtain", conceived by museum in progress.[17] In 2009, Walker curated volume 11 of Merge Records', Score!. Invited by fellow artist Mark Bradford in 2010 to develop a set of free lesson plans for K-12 teachers at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Walker offered a lesson that had students collaborating on a story by exchanging text messages.[18]

In March, 2012 artist Clifford Owens performed a score by Kara Walker at MoMA PS1.[19]


The Detroit Institute of Art removed her The Means to an End: A Shadow Drama in Five Acts (1995) from a 1999 exhibition "Where the Girls Are: Prints by Women from the DIA's Collection" when African-American artists and collectors protested its presence. The five-panel silhouette of an antebellum plantation scene was in the permanent collection and was to be re-exhibited at some point according to a DIA spokesperson.[20]

A Walker piece entitled The moral arc of history ideally bends towards justice but just as soon as not curves back around toward barbarism, sadism, and unrestrained chaos caused a controversy among employees at Newark Public Library who questioned in appropriateness for the reading room where it was hung. The piece was covered but not removed in December 2012.[21] After some discussion among employees and trustees the work was again revealed.[22] Kara Walker visited the New Jersey Newark Public Library to discuss the work and the controversy that went with it. Walker did not stray away from the difficult subjects such as race and history.[23]


Some of Walker's exhibitions have been shown at The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, The Renaissance Society in Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2002 she was chosen to represent the United States in the São Paulo Biennial in Brazil.[24] Walker’s first museum survey, in 2007, was organized by Philippe Vergne for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and traveled to the Whitney Museum in New York and several other cities.[5]

Selected Solo Exhibitions[edit]

The Means to an End: A Shadow Drama in Five Acts, etching and aquatint by Kara Walker, five panels, 1995, Honolulu Museum of Art

Selected Group Exhibitions[edit]


Among the public collections holding work by Kara Walker are the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art;[25] Honolulu Museum of Art; the Missoula Art Museum (Missoula, MT); the Seattle Art Museum; the University of Michigan Museum of Art (Ann Arbor, MI); the Weisman Art Museum (Minneapolis, MN);[26] the Musée d’art moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg; the Tate Collection, London; and the The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.[27] Early large-scale cut-paper works have been collected by, among others, Jeffrey Deitch and Dakis Joannou.[28]


In 1997, Walker — who was 28 at the time — was one of the youngest people to receive a MacArthur fellowship.[29] There was a lot of criticism because of her fame at such a young age and the fact that her art was most popular within the white community.[30] In 2007, Walker was listed among Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in The World, Artists and Entertainers, in a citation written by fellow artist Barbara Kruger.[31] In 2012, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[32] Walker is also the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships such as the Deutsche Bank Prize and the Larry Aldrich Award.[25]

Walker has been featured on PBS. Her work graces the cover of musician Arto Lindsay's recording, Salt (2004).

Art market[edit]

Walker is represented by Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York. Since 2014, she has also been represented by the Victoria Miro Gallery in London.[33]

Personal life[edit]

Early in her career, Walker lived in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband, German-born jewelry professor Klaus Bürgel,[2][34] whom she married in 1996. In 1997, she gave birth to a daughter.[35] The couple has since divorced,[5] and Walker moved to New York in 2003. She maintains a studio in the Garment District, Manhattan and a country home in rural Massachusetts.[2]


  1. ^ a b Shaw, Gwendolyn DuBois (2004). Speaking the Unspeakable: The Art of Kara Walker. Duke University Press. p. 12. ISBN 0-8223-3396-1. 
  2. ^ a b c Julie L. Belcove (March 2007), History Girl W.
  3. ^ a b c d "Looking at the History of the United States, Including the Shocking Parts". Retrieved 2012-03-25. 
  4. ^ Flo Wilson, “On Walls and the Walkers,” The International Review of African American Art 20.3: 17–19
  5. ^ a b c d e Blake Gopnik (April 25, 2014), Rarely One for Sugarcoating: Kara Walker Creates a Confection at the Domino Refinery New York Times.
  6. ^ a b "The Art of Kara Walker". Walker Art Center. Retrieved 2012-03-13. 
  7. ^ a b Cotter, Holland. "Kara Walker." The New York Times, n.d.
  8. ^ Kara Walker Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
  9. ^ a b Holzwarth 488
  10. ^ Sikkema Jenkins & Co.—Kara Walker
  11. ^ David D'Arcy (April 2006). "The Eyes of the Storm: Kara Walker on Hurricanes, Heroes and Villains". Modern Painters. Retrieved 2008-04-22 
  12. ^ "Professor Kara Walker: Exhibition Opens at Lehmann Maupin, Sikkema Jenkins.". Retrieved 2012-03-25. 
  13. ^ New School University Unveils “Event Horizon” the First Major Public Art Commission by Artist Kara Walker Press release of April 26, 2005.
  14. ^ a b Creative Time Projects. Kara Walker.
  15. ^ "A Sonorous Subtlety: KARA WALKER with Kara Rooney." Brooklyn Rail. May 6th, 2014.
  16. ^ Walker: "A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby" on YouTube
  17. ^ "Safety Curtain 1998/1999", museum in progress, Vienna.
  18. ^ Jori Finkel (June 17, 2010), Mark Bradford leads Kara Walker, Cathy Opie and more to create online teacher resource for Getty Los Angeles Times.
  19. ^ "Clifford Owens and Kara Walker at MoMA PS1: An Epilogue With RoseLee Goldberg," Rozalia Jovanovic. Observer. Gallerist.
  20. ^ [1], http://faculty.risd.edu/bcampbel/dubois-Censoreship.pdf [sic]
  21. ^ Carter, Barry (December 2, 2012). "Censorship or common decency? Newark Library covers up controversial artwork". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved 2012-01-19. 
  22. ^ Carter, Barry (January 20, 2013). "Controversial painting in Newark Library is bared once again". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved 2012-01-20. 
  23. ^ Kramer, Jessica. "Kara Walker Addresses Art and Controversy at the Newark Public Library". Retrieved 26 April 2014. 
  24. ^ Carol Vogel (December 28, 2001), Artist Is Chosen New York Times.
  25. ^ a b Kara Walker: Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi's Blue Tale, April 21 – June 25, 2011 Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York.
  26. ^ Kara Walker in AskArt.com
  27. ^ "30 Americans: Kara Walker.". Retrieved 2012-03-25. 
  28. ^ Julia Szabo (March 23, 1997), Kara Walker's Shock Art New York Times Magazine.
  29. ^ Hilton Als, "The Shadow Act", The New Yorker, October 8, 2007.
  30. ^ Solange James (January 24, 2008). "Art Critique: Kara Walker". Copious Magazine. 
  31. ^ Barbara Kruger (2007) "Kara Walker" Time online. Retrieved 26 July 2007
  32. ^ Visual Arts Faculty Kara Walker Inducted into The American Academy of Arts and Letters Columbia University School of the Arts, March 20, 2012.
  33. ^ Victoria Miro signs up four more artists The Art Newspaper, 8 June 2014.
  34. ^ Klaus Bürgel, January 27 - March 17, 1999 Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco.
  35. ^ Cathy Curtis (November 12, 1997), [articles.latimes.com/1997/nov/12/entertainment/ca-52774 Finding Direction: A Fantasy Self Put Artist Kara Walker on the Path to Personal, Professional Identity] Los Angeles Times.


Further reading[edit]


Non-fiction books and catalogues[edit]

External links[edit]