Through her satirical and overtly raunchy drawings, collages, cut-paper silhouettes, text pieces (below, in background), and shadow-puppet film animations, Kara Walker, 42, has depicted the racially charged nightmare of the antebellum South. “My work is troublesome,” she acknowledges. “That’s the point.” But while her subject matter comes readily to her as an artist, Walker has a tougher time when the subject on public view is herself. “What I want to project is a paradox: I am elegant, sure; angry, of course; cocky, sometimes; warm-hearted and socially conscious, sometimes; geeky, mostly; wicked, very; absurd, always,” Walker says. “If I could, I’d dress in a manner that reflected those contradictions without coming off as disjointed.” Though skeptical of the fashion world, Walker admits having a certain affection for its pageantry. Her mother was a designer who used to stage shows in the seventies in Walker’s hometown of Stockton, California. “I modeled in two of them and had the hiccups throughout the first one,” she recalls. Still, Walker, whose site-specific new work opens at the Art Institute of Chicago in February 2013, would rather that her art, alone, assume the spotlight. “I showed one of my films, Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale, in Aspen recently, and afterward the audience was silent—you could hear the crickets chirping,” she says. “And I thought, Yes! It worked! That’s why I can recede into the background.”
Walker wears Diane von Furstenberg cotton top, and gloves.