Kara Walker uses an Victorian art form — the cutout silhouette — to create a jarring irony in her depictions of violence against African Americans, and she's won a MacArthur Foundation genius award for her work. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art announced this morning that it's got a Walker in its collection, one it's been unfolding like the slo-mo bloom of a flower.
I'm a huge fan of Walker's work, which you can see more of here. The piece in Crystal Bridges' collection, "A Warm Summer Evening in 1863," is a tapestry, the silhouette created in felt. More on the jump.
From the CBMA press release:
This tapestry, Walker's first, is based on an engraving originally published in Harper's Magazine during the Civil War that documented the destruction of an orphanage for black children in New York City. By choosing this event, Walker focuses attention on labor tensions between immigrants and freed slaves in the North. The black felt silhouette of a lynched female figure that is superimposed on the scene, her noose tied in a neat bow, is not based on a real person, but effectively telegraphs the horror of the racially motivated violence.
"It's just this type of collision between documented history and imagined history that makes Kara Walker's work so strong," said Don Bacigalupi, director. "This work speaks to the complexity of race relations in the Civil War era."
In this work Walker has also juxtaposed pop culture and folk art forms with tapestry, a format originally made for the wealthy elite. In the exhibition catalog Demons, Yarns & Tales: Tapestries by Contemporary Artists Walker said: "The engraving, which is an early example of mass-media information, is very crude ... I liked the irony of transferring this lowly craft into a medium once used for kings and princes. There's also an unwitting humility about the cutout silhouettes. It's an undervalued craft form."
Kara Walker was born in Stockton, Calif. in 1969 and moved to Stone Mountain, Ga. at age 13, a cultural shift that profoundly shaped her development as an artist. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Atlanta College of Art in 1991 and her Master of Fine Arts degree from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994. At age 27 she became one of the youngest recipients of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation ("Genius") Fellowship, and in 2002 she was chosen to represent the United States in the São Paulo Biennial in Brazil. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, with the 2007 exhibition Kara Walker: My Complement, My Oppressor, My Enemy, My Love organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis providing the most comprehensive overview of her work to date. Walker currently lives in New York, where she is a professor of visual arts at Columbia University. Her work is included in the collections of numerous major museums, among them the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art, both in New York City, and the Art Institute of Chicago.