News coverage and ghosts from the past: New Orleans, United States, 2005

Kara Walker (1969) is an Afro-American artist who has become famous especially for her installations with large scale paper cut outs, the dominant theme of which reflects back on the perverse history of racism in especially the southern states of the United States, and more generally on the way in which power will always be a node of racial and social inequality that is connected in turn to sexuality.

In this context her work relates not simply to the community of African Americans. In fact, when she received one of the most famous fellowships in the United States, the MacArthur fellowship, a point of criticism was that she was predominantly received by a white audience. Indeed, from the beginning, her work has been considered in relation to the communities that her work addresses. Considering the history of slavery one can easily imagine what these communities are, although a complicating factor, to say the least, is that Walker’s work is also much concerned with sexuality and the asymmetric relations between men and women, or between adults and children. Last but not least, the disturbing or provocative nature of the work complicates a straightforward address of a collective. In the words of writer and curator Hamza Walker the work “in presenting a radically negative critique of humanity, cannot help but alienate its audiences – black, white, Asian, Hispanic, and other” (Hamza 2000:158) (17). This alienation, however, is not so much the result of Walker’s work but the way in which she addresses something that others are afraid to address. In fact, her work witnesses in both the ways explored above: paying attention to what happens and turning towards an audience.

Note 17: On the complex relation of Walker’s work to distinct audiences, see also Gwendolyn Dubois Shaw in the “Conclusion” of her study on Walker’s work (Dubois 2004: 153-156).