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Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love

July 5 - October 19, 2008


Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love will be on view to the public at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth from July 5 through October 19, 2008. This first full-scale American museum survey of the work of Kara Walker is organized by Philippe Vergne, Deputy Director and Chief Curator, and Yasmil Raymond, Assistant Curator, at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, in close collaboration with the artist. My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love features works ranging from Walker's signature black cut-paper silhouettes to film animations to more than one hundred works on paper. (right: Kara Walker, Darkytown Rebellion, 2001, projection, cut paper, and adhesive on wall, 14 x 37 ft. (4.3 x 11.3 m) overall. Collection Musée d'Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg. Courtesy the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York)

Walker is among the most complex and prolific American artists of her generation. Over the past decade, she has gained national and international recognition for her room-size tableaux depicting historical narratives haunted by sexuality, violence, and subjugation through the genteel eighteenth-century art of cut-paper silhouettes. Set in the American South before the Civil War,Walker's compositions play off stereotypes to portray, often grotesquely, life on the plantation, where masters, mistresses, slaves, women, and children enact a subverted version of the past.

Over the years the artist has used drawing, painting, light projections, writing, shadow puppetry, and, most recently, film animation to narrate her tales of romance and oppression, power and liberation.These scenarios thwart conventional readings of a cohesive national history and expose the collective and ongoing psychological injury caused by the tragic legacy of slavery. Her work leads viewers through an aesthetic experience that evokes a critical and emotional understanding of the past and proposes an examination of contemporary racial and gender stereotypes. (left: Kara Walker, Gone, An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart, 1994, Cut paper on wall, 13 x 50 ft. Collection on Yvonne Force Inc.)

Walker's visual epics systematically and critically walk a line -- the "color line," to quote W. E. B. DuBois -- that moves us from the antebellum South to an analysis of many of the prevailing economic, social, and individual power structures still in place today. Deploying an acidic sense of humor, she examines the dialectic of pleasure and danger, guilt and fulfillment, desire and fear, race and class. "The black subject in the present tense is the container for specific pathologies from the past," says the artist, "and it is continuously growing and feeding off those maladies."

Organized as a narrative, the exhibition articulates the parallel shifts in Walker's visual language and subject matter-from a critical analysis of the history of slavery as a microcosm of American history through the structure of romantic literature and Hollywood film to a revised history of Western modernism and its relationship to the notion of "primitivism."


About the Artist

Born in 1969 in Stockton, California, Kara Walker received her BFA from the Atlanta College of Art in 1991 and her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994. Since that time, she has created more than thirty room-size installations and hundreds of drawings and watercolors, and has been the subject of more than forty solo exhibitions. She is the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Achievement Award (1997) and, most recently, the Deutsche Bank Prize (2004) and the Larry Aldrich Award (2005). She was the United States representative for the 25th International São Paulo Biennial in Brazil (2002). She currently lives in New York, where she is associate professor of visual arts at Columbia University, New York. (right: Kara Walker, Cut, 1998, Cut paper on wall. 88 x 54 inches. Collection Donna and Cargill ManMilan)



The Walker Art Center has published a 432-page illustrated catalogue to accompany the exhibition. The book contains critical essays by scholars and cultural critics on the myriad social, racial, and gender issues present in Walker's work, including texts by exhibition curator Philippe Vergne; cultural and literary historian Sander L. Gilman; art historian and critic Thomas McEvilley; art historian Robert Storr; and poet and novelist Kevin Young.The publication features more than 250 full-color images of the artist's work, a complete exhibition history and bibliography, a 36-page insert contributed by the artist, and an illustrated lexicon of recurring motifs in the artist's most influential installations by Yasmil Raymond.The catalogue will be available in The Modern Shop.

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