Presentation Title

Kara Walker’s Silhouettes: Expanding Notions of Blackness through Stereotype

Start Date

November 2016

End Date

November 2016

Location

HUB 268

Type of Presentation

Oral Talk

Abstract

After Kara Walker received the MacArthur “Genius Grant” in 1997, she experienced a firestorm of criticism from canonical African American visual artists outraged by her employment of stereotypic imagery. The loudest among these critics was legendary Civil Rights era artist Betye Saar who described Walker’s work as overtly degrading towards black women and girls. This hotly contested debate over the use of stereotype is generational. Betye Saar represents the Civil Rights era, in which artists were often confined to the production of respectable images of African Americans struggling for liberation, while Kara Walker is a member of the emerging Post Black generation. While Saar herself has employed stereotypic imagery, as an artist of the Post Black generation Kara Walker has moved beyond the limited notions of blackness that Civil Rights era artist relied upon to reveal the less noble, morally complacent and perverse aspects of the black experience. Walker creates Antebellum narratives through the recall of stereotypic black icons like the mammy, the picaninny and the Venus in the bygone form of silhouette portraiture. These slavery era narratives include tantalizingly taboo interactions between white characters and black stereotypes, such as pedophilia and cold-blooded murder. The juxtaposition between stereotype and taboo forces the audience to grapple with the unspeakable; Walker’s silhouettes embody repressed American dialogues. When bombarded by a multitude of American historical and cultural references Walker denies the viewer any instance of neutrality, in the wake of Walker’s work the viewer must come to terms with their relationship to black stereotype.

This document is currently not available here.

Share

COinS
 
Nov 12th, 10:00 AM Nov 12th, 10:15 AM

Kara Walker’s Silhouettes: Expanding Notions of Blackness through Stereotype

HUB 268

After Kara Walker received the MacArthur “Genius Grant” in 1997, she experienced a firestorm of criticism from canonical African American visual artists outraged by her employment of stereotypic imagery. The loudest among these critics was legendary Civil Rights era artist Betye Saar who described Walker’s work as overtly degrading towards black women and girls. This hotly contested debate over the use of stereotype is generational. Betye Saar represents the Civil Rights era, in which artists were often confined to the production of respectable images of African Americans struggling for liberation, while Kara Walker is a member of the emerging Post Black generation. While Saar herself has employed stereotypic imagery, as an artist of the Post Black generation Kara Walker has moved beyond the limited notions of blackness that Civil Rights era artist relied upon to reveal the less noble, morally complacent and perverse aspects of the black experience. Walker creates Antebellum narratives through the recall of stereotypic black icons like the mammy, the picaninny and the Venus in the bygone form of silhouette portraiture. These slavery era narratives include tantalizingly taboo interactions between white characters and black stereotypes, such as pedophilia and cold-blooded murder. The juxtaposition between stereotype and taboo forces the audience to grapple with the unspeakable; Walker’s silhouettes embody repressed American dialogues. When bombarded by a multitude of American historical and cultural references Walker denies the viewer any instance of neutrality, in the wake of Walker’s work the viewer must come to terms with their relationship to black stereotype.