Dec 9, 2009

Seeing the Unspekable

I read this book in order to better understand how Kara Walker deals with the negative imagery that was made about African Americans, particularly women, while creating even more negative imagery in her work. I have run into the same sort of dilemma in my own work. Is it acceptable to re-use the same imagery of the women in Neoclassical works, or make them even more absurd, or is that just continuing it? After reading the book, I still have not found the answer, but I did gain a knowable of Kara Walker's work. It is a shorter book around 150 pages.

Many of the examples of "historical negative imagery" such as the silhouette of Flora, I had not heard of which I hope is a sign that my generation is no longer accepting racism as acceptable behavior. I had also not heard of the story of John Brown. The book goes though Kara Walkers journey in Grad School at Rhode island School of Art and Design from her love of history painting to her discovery of the silhouettes which would become iconic in her work. The book describes some of the difficulty Kara Walker has had in displaying her work and the reactions from the African American Community. Some of the quotes I pulled out of my notes:

Kara Walker: “ I began reading these romance novels and got very interested in the way of couching inconsistent desires into one format. It’s about power it’s about submission, it’s about glorified rape fantasies! There’s always a heroine who’s strong and wins in the end and gets what she wants…” (63)

“The art of viewing is the moment in which the viewer, regardless of racial self-identification, is allowed to confront his or her guilt over the traumatic legacy the disremembered and the unspeakable, the real and the imagined, of slavery” (64-65)

“walker has been condemned by her fellow African Americans of feeding the appetite that White Americans consumers have for black flesh” (117)

“’Pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering are totally transforming experiences’…That mother nature and father time might put Kara Walker back in her place by possibly recreate her as an ‘upstanding’ member of the community” …”Gender-specific view of what is and what is not appropriate behavior for a female African American Artist”(120)

“Because of her ability to speak the unspeakable, her work has been the subject of debate nearly everywhere it has been shown. Although she continues to find widespread international acceptance and accolades from the mainstream art world, it was not until her 2004 exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem that she was invited to show at a museum of African American art or history.” (123)
This book is available of Google books at :
To Learn more about Kara Walker visit

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