In her latest exhibition, the artist Kara Walker takes history to task
Kara Walker’s first major exhibition in the U.K., at the Camden Arts Centre in London, finds the art world’s unflinching pathologist of racism at her fierce best. Walker presents a new cache of her signature silhouettes—a nightmarish cast of gibbering grotesques plucked from American history’s seething id. “Auntie Walker” has made two wall samplers, one for civilians and one for savages, where she digs deep into the worst racial stereotypes.
Minstrels, mammies, Southern belles and soldiers variously dismember and decapitate, fellate or do nasty painful looking things with long staffs. White figures on a black wall meanwhile explore American gun culture from the Civil War to the present, a world literally ripe with violence, dominated by phallic canons and where pregnant bellies echo cartoon bombs.
Elsewhere, a series of large charcoal drawings from 2010 match Goya’s Disasters of War with scenes of lynching and rape. These are hardly historical illustrations however. In works like “Dixie in the Dogwoods,” a voluptuous, tortuous sex scene between a black man and white woman, Walker’s angry, heavily-worked lines conjure a miasma of racist paranoia, particularly from white fears of black sexual potency.
This reaches a delirious horrific highpoint in Walker’s animation, “Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale,” a tragedy of inter-racial love that mixes graphic shadow puppetry with unsettling fairy tale imagery. The inevitable violent end is as surreal as it is visceral.