Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery

Photo by Gerald Holly

Nashville, TN



Disturbing Allegories: New Graphics by Kara Walker


The Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery will continue its spring schedule with an exhibition featuring a new suite of large-scale prints by African American artist Kara Walker. Disturbing Allegories: New Graphics by Kara Walker opens on Thursday, February 8 at the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery with a reception From 5 to 7:30 p.m., and will continue through Thursday, March 22, 2001. Concurrent with the opening reception, Professor Amy H. Kirschke, Vanderbilt University, will deliver a lecture entitled Kara Walker: New Perspectives at 5 p.m. in Room 206 of the Fine Arts Building. The opening reception and lecture are free and the public is invited to attend. This exhibition is being held to coincide with Black History Month.

The First in a series of one-person exhibitions focusing on significant contemporary American women artists, Disturbing Allegories: New Graphics by Kara Walker will feature a newly published suite of prints by Kara Walker entitled The Emancipation Approximation. In these prints, which are based on Walker's installation at the Carnegie International 1999/2000, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the artist utilizes her signature black-paper silhouette style to caricature the lives of slaves and masters in the antebellum American South, often with disturbing and racially challenging results. Walker likens her use of the silhouette, whose source is found in the Colonial-era model practiced by middle and upper-class, white Americans, to the racial stereotypes which she explores: "The silhouette says a lot with very little information, but that's also what the stereotype does." (left: print from suite of prints by Kara Walker entitled The Emancipation Approximation)

The individual prints in The Emancipation Approximation come together to create a tableau that is as challenging as it is appealing, and as intricate as it is simplistic. Walker's sensitivity to line and attention to detail are offset by her harsh treatment of both black and white stereotypes, using these chromatic opposites as metaphors for the race issues she examines. As in other recent work, Walker has incorporated the color gray (18 of the 26 prints are on a gray background) into this suites of prints. Perhaps she uses this color as a metaphor for racially mixed offspring, also making it possible for both white and black figures to be represented on the same page. Although The Emancipation Approximation contains Walker's treatment of historical stereotypes (the slave girl, the pickaninny, the mammy, the Southern Belie, the plantation boss, the master, and Uncle Tom), she does so not to tell a "story," in the more traditional sense of the word, but to create a series of interrelated images that Walker has said are "the result of free association." David Frankel, in his catalogue entry on the Carnegie International 1999/2000 installation, noted that "the result is an airborne, shifting world. White swans have black, human heads; the load carried by a black woman is simultaneously a white woman in a gown; the pattern of a hoop skirt in one scene becomes the pattern of a net in the next." While these scenes present fictitious social and sexual interactions, each are loaded with a kind of tension that reveals itself the more they are examined. It is this tension, with its roots in the history of the American South and its indelible link to racism, that makes Walker's work and The Emancipation Approximation so relevant today.

Walker, who received her Master of Fine Arts degree from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, has exhibited widely throughout the United States and Europe. Solo exhibitions and projects have been realized at institutions such as Centre d'Art Contemporain, Geneva, Switzerland; Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center, University of California, Los Angeles; Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University;. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; The Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle; The Renaissance Society, University of Chicago; and the Center For Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. Walker has also participated in a number of group exhibitions that include Strength and Diversity: A Celebration of African American Artists, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University; Age of Influence. Reflections in the Mirror of American Culture, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and the Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Walker has been the recipient of several awards, grants and fellowships, including the prestigious award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; two Awards of Excellence from the Rhode Island School of Design; and an Art Matters, Inc. Individual Artist's Fellowship.

An Assistant Professor of Fine Arts at Vanderbilt University, Amy H. Kirschke, guest speaker and writer for this exhibition, specializes in African American art, African art, and nineteenth-century European art. Her recent publications include her book, Aaron Douglas: Art, Race and the Harlem Renaissance, as well as a number of articles in journals such as the Institutional Review of African American Art. She has two chapters forthcoming in books on African American art, and has just completed a book manuscript on African American political illustrators of the early 20th century.

Read more about the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery in Resource Library Magazine

rev. 10/20/10

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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

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