The Shadow Act: Kara Walker's vision.

The Shadow Act: Kara Walker's vision.

by Hilton Als

October 8, 2007

(Original profile appears in the New Yorker and is not online. A treatment of the profile is reprinted below.)

Shades of Meaning (a slide show, including photos of Walker's cut paper pieces).

In this issue of the magazine, Hilton Als profiles the artist Kara Walker, whose travelling retrospective, “My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love,” will open this month at the Whitney Museum of American Art, in New York. Walker “combs the mansions and swamps of the antebellum South to find her characters, whose surroundings are a visual corollary of their fetid imaginations and musty souls,” Als writes. Here is a portfolio of work from Walker’s thirteen-year career. Hilton Als, Profiles, "The Shadow Act," The New Yorker, October 8, 2007, p. 70
October 8, 2007 Issue

PROFILE of artist Kara Walker. Writer dines in a restaurant in Paris with Walker and her family two days before the opening of Walker’s traveling retrospective “My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love” at the ARC/Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Intellectually and emotionally ambitious, Walker’s retrospective showcases more than two hundred of the provocative and racially charged images that she has produced in her thirteen-year career. Writer compares her to Daumier, though she is much more than a caricaturist. Tells about the other female members of Walker’s family who had come to Paris for the show: her sister, Dana; her mother, Gwendolyn; and her daughter. Discusses Walker’s “The End of Uncle Tom and the Grand Allegorical Tableau of Eva in Heaven.” In Walker’s work, slavery is a nightmare from which no American has yet awakened. Tells about Walker’s childhood. When she was thirteen, her father moved the family from California to a suburb of Atlanta, where he became the chairman of the art department of Georgia State University. Walker describes her memory of seeing her father being talked down to by the chairman of the university’s Fine Arts Department. Tells about her education at the Atlanta College of Art, where conceptual art was not encouraged. She was exposed to the work of Adrian Piper, about whom she wrote a paper called “Black/White (grey) notes on Adrian Piper” in which she announced her ambitions and pushed herself toward identity politics. Describes her growing awareness of how black women can be objectified as a subject of white male desire. She recalls a relationship with a complicated white man she describes as, “a sadist, a racist, a misogynist.” She went on to study at the Rhode Island School of Design. Writer discusses the development of Walker’s silhouette technique. Contrasts her work with that of other artists including Beteye Saar and Ellen Gallagher. Discusses Walker’s “Gone, An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart.” Discusses the controversy over Walker being awarded a MacArthur fellowship in 1997. Mentions the 1984 “Primitivism” show at MOMA, and describes the reception to Walker’s retrospective in Paris.