Kara Walker (born November 26, 1969) is a contemporary African American artist who explores race, gender, sexuality, violence and identity in her work. She is best known for her room-size tableaux of black cut-paper silhouettes.
Walker was born in Stockton, California. Her retired father is a formally educated artist, a professor, and an administrator. Her mother worked as an administrative assistant and was inspired by her family to reveal her own artistic talents.
Some of Walker's exhibitions have been shown at The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, The Renaissance Society in Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Walker has also been shown internationally and featured on PBS. Her work graces the cover of musician Arto Lindsay's recording, Salt (2004).
Walker's silhouette images work to bridge unfinished folklore in the Antebellum South, raising identity and gender issues for African American women in particular. However, because of her confrontational approach to the topic, Walker's artwork is reminiscent of Andy Warhol's Pop Art during the 1960s (indeed, Walker says she adored Warhol growing up as a child). Her nightmarish yet fantastical images incorporate a cinematic feel. Walker uses images from historical textbooks to show how African American slaves were depicted during Antebellum South. Some of her images are grotesque, for example, in The Battle of Atlanta, a white man, presumably a Southern soldier, is raping a black girl while her brother watches in shock, a white child is about to insert his sword into a nearly-lynched black woman's vagina, and a male black slave rains tears all over an adolescent white boy.
In 1997, Walker who was 28 at the time, was one of the youngest people to receive a MacArthur fellowship. There was a lot of criticism because of her fame at such a young age and the fact that her art was most popular within the white community.
In response to Hurricane Katrina, Walker created "After the Deluge," since the hurricane had devastated many poor and black areas of New Orleans. Walker was bombarded with news images of "black corporeality," including fatalities from the hurricane reduced to bodies and nothing more. She likened these casualties to African slaves piled onto ships for the Middle Passage, the Atlantic crossing to America. "I was seeing images that were all too familiar. It was black people in a state of life-or-death desperation, and everything corporeal was coming to the surface: water, excrement, sewage. It was a re-inscription of all the stereotypes about the black body."
In 2007, Walker was listed among Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in The World, Artists and Entertainers, in a citation written by fellow artist Barbara Kruger.
In 2009, Kara curated volume 11 of Merge Records', Score!. In February of 2009, Walker was included in the inaugural exhibition of Sacramouche Gallery, "The Practice of Joy Before Death; It Just Wouldn't Be a Party Without You."
Walker lives in New York and is on the faculty of the MFA program at Columbia University.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD
Centro Nazionale per le Arti Contemporanee, Rome, Italy
The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
DESTE Foundation, Athens, Greece
Deutsche Bank, Frankfurt, Germany
Foundation Museé d´Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Museum voor Modern Kunst, The Netherlands
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA