Kara Walker by Mrs. Ahuva Mantell


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Kara Walker Kara Walker (American, b. 1969) is best known for her room-size tableaux of black cut-paper silhouettes that examine the underbelly of America's racial and gender tensions. Her works often address such highly charged themes as power, repression, history, race, and sexuality. Born in Stockton, California, Walker moved to the South at age 13 when her father, artist Larry Walker, accepted a position at Georgia State University and her family relocated to Stone Mountain, a suburb of Atlanta. Focusing on painting and printmaking in college, she received her BFA from the Atlanta College of Art in 1991 and her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994. Walker currently lives in New York, where she is a professor of visual arts in the MFA program at Columbia University.

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A Visual Story

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The Silhouette The Silhouette says a lot with very little information. It also can force you into a stereotype while at the same time making all people very similar, reduced to figures.

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Camptown Ladies Detail, Kara Walker, 1998. Cut paper and adhesive on wall. Overall size 9 x 67 feet.

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The Emancipation Approximation silkscreen print, 2000

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Dramatization or Reality? How do these images compare to the history of slavery as you were taught it? Do you think they represent "real" history? Whose history is Kara Walker telling? Is it possible for an account of history to ever be true?

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Who says this is History? “The historical setting for much of Kara Walker’s work is the American pre—Civil War antebellum South. While this is the backdrop for many of her scenes, Walker does not represent a necessarily truthful depiction of history. Fact, fiction, and fantasy are intertwined; exaggerated truths and fictionalized events parade as history lessons that viewers must unpack, sort out, and ultimately decide which elements are true. Through this scrambling of “truth,” The artist is also commenting on the way that official history, particularly that of African Americans, is just as constructed as her stories.”

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Can This Relate to our History?

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Egyptian Taskmasters “..as it is written: They set taskmasters over them in order to oppress them with their burdens; the people of Israel built Pithom and Raamses as storage for Pharaoh.

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“They imposed back-breaking labor upon the people of Israel.”

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“Tears” “the children of Israel sighed because of their labor and cried; their cry of servitude reached G-d.” “G-d heard their groaning; G-d remembered his covenant…”

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“Drowning of the Jewish Males” “Our Toil refers to the drowning of the sons, as it is written: “Every son that is born you shall cast into the river…”

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“Our oppression means the pressure used upon them, as it is written: “I have also seen how the Egyptians are oppressing them.”

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Project: Create your own silhouette work of art in the style of Kara Walker. Come up with an idea for a story that you will render in collage. Use figures and objects and things that would suggest a background. You want to make a statement with this work. You should be expressing your thoughts about Jewish oppression, specifically in Ancient Egypt. You may express comparison to the African American servitude or focus mainly on how you can express feelings and a tale through the silhouette. You will be working on large white paper in groups of 4-5. Assignment of jobs per group: artists, scribes/reporters, production assistants (cutting and pasting). There will be a written or oral component explaining your work for the Gala evening. Please type up your explanation and hand in. You have 2 periods. Good Luck