Art installation showing various works.
Kara Walker examines the underbelly of America’s racial and gender tensions and is both challenging and explicit.

By Christina Latham

If you are looking for an interesting exhibition to visit this autumn, then look no further than the Camden Arts Centre. For four months, the controversial work of Kara Walker will be exhibited at the centre.

Kara Walker is an African-American artist, best known for her room-size tableaux of black cut-paper silhouettes that examine the underbelly of America’s racial and gender tensions. Her works often address such highly charged themes as power, repression, history, race, and sexuality. 

The tradition of shadow profile cut outs from black paper was named after Étienne de Silhouette, the French Controller-General of Finances in the 18th Century. The popularity of the silhouette captured beliefs at the time that intelligence and class could be characterised by one’s physical profile. Therefore, it makes it particularly striking that Walker uses this medium to portray inequality.

Walker’s new work reflects her current research into the White Supremacist movement and gun culture in the US. Peopled with subjects from both past and contemporary history, the work weaves together historical documents of slavery with more recent racial issues.

The exhibition at The Camden Arts Centre brings together several important bodies of recent work. Dust Jackets for the Niggerati is a series of large graphite drawings, conceived as book covers for unwritten essays and works of fiction, which investigates pivotal transitions in black American history and the missing narratives of the black migration. Shown alongside a video installation of her shadow play Fall Frum Grace- Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale and intricately cut silhouette installations, the ‘wall samplers’, the exhibition addresses highly-charged subjects of repression, discrimination and sexual violence.

Walker describes her work as both visual and literary. Walker has been influenced by literature such as southern romance novels, historical fiction, slave narratives, and contemporary novels, in particular the works of Harriet Ann Jacobs who wrote Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1861 under the pseudonym Linda Brent. Like a novelist, Walker employs characters, setting and action to convey a story. These narratives are not always linear and do not have a clear conclusion. However, the use of characters makes the exhibition more human and gives the audience the ability to engage with the story or the personalities of the characters.

The exhibition engages with the past, present and future and gives an interesting insight into issues in society from throughout the times. The artist’s work unashamedly comments that racism and sexism are ever present.

The exhibition is free and runs from 11 October 2013 to 5 January 2014. The centre is open 10am – 5pm and open until 9pm on Wednesday. Make the most of a great opportunity.

Camden Arts Centre, Arkwright Road, London NW3 6DG


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