This controversial exhibition travelled between Europe and the US in 2007, and generated lavish praise as well as very caustic critical remarks. The exhibition highlighted Ms Walker’s concern with race, history, identity, sexuality, oppression and power.
This blog will highlight and make a brief investigation on the nature and quality of some of the responses to this exhibition from the Whitney Museum of American Art’s website. This is the page for the forum.
These were the suggested questions from the forum:
1/ What personal associations do you bring to the exhibition?
2/ Do you ever find yourself using stereotypes despite your best intentions? If so, how?
3/ Do you think art can be a form of resistance? Please explain.
-I am in complete disgust. My first impression was the one of a beautiful art technique which in fact was, but the content was disturbing and dark. It was tasteless excuse for pornography and the worst language usage I have ever seen in my life. I always respected Afro-American cultures but this view just made me hate and loss tolerance for those who believe the world has to always be sorry for those of colour. I hope all her anger and frustrations cease one day, because it has to be a very sad life to see the world thought those eyes.
-It is harder to speak truth to power than one might think. In the case of the work of Kara Walker (as is often the case for the many successful, young blacks we find currently swimming in our waters), who would be addressing whom has become incredibly complicated.
-And even for the most well-meaning white liberal, Kara’s work panders to this subconscious. As this white supremacist subconscious is deeply rooted in all Americans, Walker’s work does not subvert the white supremacist imagination of blackness but rather re-presents it in the tangible here-and-now, bows to its hegemonic force and makes offerings of eagerly copulating slave women, debased pickaninnies and confused buckcoons.”
It is no wonder that this work has gained international recognition. It seems particularly well suited for a predominantly white European culture, which is only capable of deciphering the United States through caricature and stereotype: i.e. all “Indians” live(d) in tee-pees.
She is, in some regard, the last living slave owner in America: touring her black “objects” around the country and the world, selling off pieces at the auction block.
-Kara Walker despise blackness.
-Except for the security museum’s staff, I was the only black person in the room. Others looked at me to see my reaction, and one female security officer gave me a look of death. It was as if I was encouraging him and helping to promote the ideas on the walls.
-The show was extremely powerful, beautiful, frightening, completely unsettling, confounding, and unforgettable. I don’t know how more “successful” an artist could possibly be. Days later, my wife and I are still discussing what it means, as art, as commentary, for us, and for society. Having your conceptions and pre-conceptions rattled a bit or a lot every so often is a good thing. She can only speak for herself and her own experiences and perceptions but it would be a mistake not to listen to what she is saying.
-Subtlety mixed with chaos makes for quite an art exhibit. I am thoroughly impressed with Ms. Kara Walker’s brilliant displays. There is potential for so much double meaning in her work. Guilt was my initial reaction as I gazed upon her display, but that guilt turned to a desire to take action and change what is happening in Darfur and other places in the world. The art is truly inspiring.
-There is something in Walker’s art that disturbs me to my very core. Not to say that I dislike or am put off but her work, but something about it resonates deep within my soul. The Silhouettes are less like puppetry and more like a phantasmagoria of shadows, surreal and frightening, images of a gruesome past reflecting aspects of the present.
-It will be some time before I am fully able to reach a definite opinion about the Kara Walker show which I saw earlier today. That is, I think, as it should be. Its resistance to an absolute assessment speaks to the show’s power and complexity. It is meant to disturb because it concerns what is perhaps the most disturbing part of American history, and Ms. Walker has chosen to set our spirits on edge through disturbing, yet beautifully-executed, works. Art can be a form of resistance when it is in oppostion to illusion, complacency and conventions. I am extremely impressed by Ms. Walker’s skill as an artist, in her mastery over the various media she uses to convey her message. Her work is also firmly anchored in the traditions and references from the western art canon (which in itself underscores the underlying contradiction of her work, and, by extension perhaps, Ms. Walker herself).
I have always preferred art that is challenging because it forces me to engage and confront my worldview. A few of the comments have noted that one of the underlying questions made overt by Walkers’ exhibition makes apparent the iconic role of Black artists in a White-majority culture. Some of the responses share a visceral hatred of Walker’s imagery because of its specifically debased and pornographic nature, others are uncomfortable with the implications of these images, how they will affect relations between Black popular and historical culture, and the world at large. As well, some commentators found the exhibition exhilarating and beautiful, others found it powerful and deeply profound.
On the whole, I am mostly disappointed by the negative comments-Kara Walker is clearly a talented, intelligent artist and the genius of her work is largely demonstrated by the fact that her work is not easily defined. I don’t believe that she is under any illusion about the deeply provacative nature of her work; she is not claiming a political manifesto: however, her right as an artist to create work that deeply investigates the nature of sexual/racial and gender politics within the maelstrom of American (slave) history is and should always be uncontested.