Master of the Silhouette: Kara Walker

Slavery Slavery!. Kara Walker. Cc1997
Slavery Slavery!. Kara Walker. Cc1997

Who would have thought that a black cut-out piece of paper could hold so much energy and tension. Kara Walker is the master of the silhouette. Her work centres on heavy themes of oppression, power, gender, race, history and sexuality. Walker draws much inspiration from historical contexts and literature, namely, the darker aspects of human behaviour. Her drawings are very much in line with folk-like image techniques.Because her images are silhouettes, she over exaggerates certain physical features of each racial grouping, to provoke the audience further, but also point out the cliches that society is so comfortable using.

Her cut-outs are much larger than life, usually filling room-fulls of large naked walls. There is no getting away from the visuals Walker creates; they loom over the viewer and forces the audience to interact, question and vocally comment on the scene in front of them. Walker is a genius when it comes to pulling tension and creating blatant imagery that angers and provokes the audience. She is not afraid to voice her discontent for current and past social attitudes; she sees them as inexcusable and downright shameful. It is also as if you feel her discontent as you walk the halls of her work.

Walker engages a strong sense of narration in her scenes. They spill across the wall in a way that tells a story much about life and society than the actual characters present in the scenes. Each character is a generalisation [The wife, the master, the slave, the child, the woman, the man, the black, the white, etc] they are not meant to have a story but rather to perpetuate the sentiment along. Walker fancies the southern romances, historical writings of slavery America and writings of slaves as her main source of storytelling. Her scenes are never conclusive but do share a tightly knitted layering of social injustices and racial slurrings to accentuate her point of view. Her work is never a completed story, rather an arrangement of selected scenes of a time past, present and future that carries a particular point across. Her scenes are not historically accurate but a blend of fact, fiction and fantasy. because her compositions have very little grounding to the picture plane, the overall effect is light, fleeting and a bit whimsical, but with a very snarky, vulgar and taunting undertow. Walker is very good at towing the line of happy fantasy with an undercurrent of hurt, pain and vindictiveness.

Be sure to take some time to check out more about Kara Walker. Her work is very pivotal and definitely stands against other artist of her period. Her work is specific to themes of oppression and racial slurring, however, her renditions and drawings are fun, light and very light feeling, which is so strange for the content of the work. She blends these two very polar emotions to create something that is truly noteworthy.