Kara Walker


     Kara Walker produces mural-sized, paper cutout silhouettes to create a dense
caustic narrative of nineteenth-century, antebellum slavery. She details the
black-paper cutouts with stereotypical characters pickaninnies, sambos,
mammies, slave mistresses, and masters. My first impression of her work is that
she elegantly portrays scenes from African American plantation life; however, I
became aware that sexual, violent, and scatological images are represented
repeatedly in her landscapes. She exaggerates the grotesque history of slavery
and race relations in America. Foremost of all, I agree with older Blacks of
feelings of fear regarding the inclusion of slavery as a part of their history,
and the use of stereotypes to detonate ancient equations of racism. Older
generations cannot explain stereotypical imagery except with malice and hate.

Betye Saar negative opinion of Walker convinced me; she believes that Walker
stoops to accommodate the White art world to ensure her financial success (MacArthur

Foundation Achievement Award). Saar has fought to suppress stereotypes through
the empowerment of these icons, and her artwork arouses sympathy from black
compatriots. This can be seen in her work, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima. It
seems that Walkers illustration of contorting slave imagery resuscitates noxious
racial perceptions which Saar and other social activists try to deny. After I
had Ms. Cahans lecture, and during the following class discussion, I clearly
grasped the meaning of Walkers intention, Change the Joke and Slip the Yoke, and
the reasons for controversy surrounding her ambitious work. I am aware that

Walker does not accommodate herself to the White society that once shared the
belief that slavery was justifiable. Her use of stereotypical and devastating
imagery becomes a weapon, and she seems to avenge the past sins of the society
in which she creates her work. For African Americans, the pain of racism is
everpresent, and Walker's world is devoid of the sinless and the passive black
victim. Walker mines the source of this discomfort from submerged history and
goes so deep that everyone is involved. She knows that stereotypes have not
disappeared: they have only been hidden. The animated figures of her cut-paper
wall murals attempt to change a painful past into satire. Consequently, African

Americans can conquer a fear of racism in which the themes of power and
exploitation continue to have deep meaning for them in contemporary American
society. Using humor, they digest the indigestible agony. Furthermore, nothing
can be eradicated, nor can their pain be suppressed by looking back tragic
events. Walkers shocking narrative is a powerful heeling process of dealing with
slavery. Younger generations who were born after the Civil Rights Movements may
have instinct for destroy the fear because they are proud of themselves being
black; they are brought up as Black is beautiful. As she has turned the art
world upside down and involved the African American society with her work, I
understand how art can lift people above the problem and change lives. I would
like to say that artist must recognize this point and have responsibility to own
artwork. Artist sometimes plays an important part in the social issue.