Throwing open the doors to her personal archive that she has closely guarded for the past twentyeight years, Kara Walker (b. 1969) presents more than 600 drawings from her studio. The Kupferstichkabinett Basel displays these treasures together with brand-new works by the world-famous American artist in her first extensive solo exhibition in Switzerland.
Walker, who first caused a stir with panoramic silhouettes in 1994, is one of the most prominent artists working in America today. Provocative and obscene but aesthetically appealing scenes executed with extraordinary technical finesse bring racism, gender, sexuality, and violence into focus. Surveying American history from slavery to Barack Obama’s presidency, Walker has no patience for political correctness and does not propose a conciliatory view of the past, instead prodding the viewer to question established narratives and entrenched myths. Unsparing in her analysis of conflicts that have never been resolved, she examines the genesis of collective self-images as well as her own identity.
Paper is a central medium in Walker’s creative practice. Sketches and notes suggest intimate self-expression and authentic responses to issues of the day. Drawing and the written word are perfect vehicles for satire and caricature, for pamphleteering and subversion. The rich diversity of the works on paper illustrate her command of her subjects, the agility of her imagination in inventing characters and unexpected metamorphoses, and the poise with which she privileges narrative ambiguity over overt messaging.
The abundance of drawings reveals that Walker deftly avails herself of a wide range of styles: one recognizes Goya’s light-dark contrasts, James Ensor’s vibrant line, or Hogarth’s flair for cartoonish emphasis. Her most recent works, by contrast, prominently feature instances of old masterly white heightening on tinted paper and even colored crayons. The echoes of historic art raise the question of Walker’s influences and how an African-American artist adds to the concepts of art history.
*An exhibition by Kunstmuseum Basel in collaboration with Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt and De Pont Museum, Tilburg*