Art Through Time: A Global View
Conflict and Resistance Art: Alabama Loyalists Greeting the Federal Gun-Boats from Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated)
Throughout her career, Kara Walker has used flat, black silhouette cutouts, often applied directly to museum and gallery walls, to investigate questions of race and gender.
Walker confronts difficult subjects head-on, pushing stereotypes to their extremes in order to expose them as ridiculous, disturbing, and dangerous. By using simple silhouettes to depict subjects involving violence, sexuality, and subjugation, Walker subverts their seemingly innocuous forms in ways that are deliberately provocative and controversial. In her work, Walker frequently deals with the era of slavery in the American South. This image, Alabama Loyalists, comes from a 2005 print portfolio in which Walker combines authentic historical images with her signature silhouette-type figures. Each of the fifteen prints in the series starts with a woodcut, chosen by the artist, from the 1866 publication Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War. Walker then “annotates” the nineteenth-century work by screen-printing a flat black image (not a literal silhouette in this case) of an African American stereotype over it.
While the original Harper’s Pictorial History images are rather straightforward illustrations of events from the war, Walker’s superimposed figures are less clear. Here, a woman wearing a hair wrap and a tattered dress floats ambiguously on the sheet. Her form interrupts and blocks out part of the original image, and her scale is several times larger than that of the other figures. She does not take part in the activity shared by everyone else. This figure literally keeps the history of slavery at the forefront of the print and forces us to confront the lingering presence of racism in contemporary American culture.
DuBois Shaw, Gwendolyn. Seeing the Unspeakable: The Art of Kara Walker. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.
Joselit, David. “Notes on Surface: Toward a Genealogy of Flatness.” Art History 23.1 (March 2000): 29–32.
“Kara Walker.” In LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies. Columbia University Web site. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/arts/neiman/Walker/.
“Repicturing the Past/Picturing the Present (2007).” In Exhibitions & the Collection. Museum of Modern Art Web site. http://www.moma.org/explore/exhibitions.
Saltzman, Lisa. Making Memory Matter: Strategies of Remembrance in Contemporary Art. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.