Biographical article in Oxford Art Online.
Seeing the Unspeakable: The Art of Kara Walker, by Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw
[ EBOOK or BOOK, at ART NC910.5.W35 A4 2004 in Bixler Library]
[BOOK at ART NC910.5.W35 A4 2007 in Bixler Library]
"Transgression, Excess, and the Violence of Looking in the Art of Kara Walker," by David Wall. Oxford Art Journal (2010) 33 (3): 277-299
January 31, 2013 | Posted by
Discussion by Gregg Hertzlieb, Curator and Director of the Brauer Museum of Art at Valparaiso University, of their copy of this print:
Kara Walker’s original print, no world, is a fine new addition to the Brauer Museum of Art’s permanent collection. Purchased through the Byron Lee and Josephine Luecke Ferguson Donated Fund, this intaglio print on paper represents well the thematically powerful and technically superb work that has established Walker as one of the most important contemporary artists in the United States.
Walker, a young African American artist who in 1997 received a MacArthur “genius” grant, is represented in major museum collections worldwide. Her creations deal with themes of slavery and African American identity in direct, uncompromising, even at times disturbing ways. Typically through silhouetted shapes sometimes taking the form of black paper cutouts affixed directly to the wall, she displays narrative tableaus occasionally fanciful in nature where the characters engage in acts that demonstrate the atrocities of slavery in 19th-century America. Walker’s draftsmanship mimics 19th-century political cartoons, enabling her to bring about potent visual associations while supplying 21st-century postmodern critiques. Her art is of a strong sort, fascinating viewers with pictorial invention while simultaneously confronting them with images unforgettable in their frankness and presentation of man’s inhumanity to man.
no world is available both individually and as part of a portfolio titled An Unpeopled Land in Uncharted Waters. Two large hands in a churning ocean carry a ship, presumably a slave ship, to the shore of the New World, where silhouetted figures seem to represent a landowner bargaining with a native inhabitant for corn. The title no world is a pun on “New World,” and the lower case letters give an opportunity for additional commentary, priming viewers for the experience of seeing the ship carried toward a place unfamiliar, harsh, a destination but not a home for the captives on board. Beneath the waves floats the silhouetted form of a female figure; perhaps it is the artist’s soul, perhaps the collective soul of the people held within the slave ship, perhaps a general indicator of the identity of those people forever lost as the ship leaves the homeland farther and farther behind. no world is a grand, sweeping picture that shows a new land, a transported ship, and a figure beneath the waves that moves viewers tremendously as they contemplate the figure’s tragic inability to act or survive.
History is full of stirring stories, and Walker is able to use dramatic means in her art to suit her historically themed narratives. She aims, however, to subvert the authority of historical accounts and call attention to the participants in these events who were silent and carried along against their will. Her art overall impresses through formal qualities, touches the heart and even summons feelings of outrage through presenting sadly disturbing scenes, and finally captures challenging beauty through the truthfulness of her observations.
As someone with a printmaking background, I must say that no world is a tour de force of intaglio techniques, where the artist uses black, white, and shades of gray in a remarkably effective manner. Walker’s print displays a lovely range of textures and tones that realistically represent the scene and are also satisfying to contemplate as gestural passages. Walker and her accompanying printer were able through surface manipulations of a smooth copper plate to create a broad range of rich tones; corrosive acid etched the plate so that she could achieve a uniform look throughout the proofs and final edition.
no world blends strong critique with exquisite draftsmanship and technique to create an image that captures the imagination and at the same time tells a story that needs to be known, and that should never be forgotten.