Kara Walker’s life-size black paper silhouettes illustrate a mix of factual and fictional histories of race relations and slavery in the antebellum American South. Walker’s silhouette installations simultaneously reveal and deconstruct, and celebrate and criticize stereotyped myths about African Americans. Role reversals are fantasized – the master becomes the victim and the slave mistress is now a seductress, gaining liberation by her pleasure. Walker’s sexually explicit and sometimes violent representations, informed by slave narratives, old postcards and advertisements, romance novels, and Civil War reenactments, are emotionally explosive and bring to the fore issues that many would like to ignore or forget.
At the age of 28, Walker, calling herself ‘a free Negress of noteworthy talent,’ was fast becoming one of the most prominent contemporary artists working in the United States and was honored in 1997 with a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. This exhibition, organized by The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, was comprised of recent silhouette tableaux. The Seattle Times noted that the exhibition was “one of the most truly thought-provoking and original shows to be seen in Seattle in a very long time.”