The contemporary American artist Kara Walker (b. 1969) —widely recognized for her exploration of issues of race, gender, and sexuality through the 18th-century medium of cut-paper silhouettes 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. For Walker, the simplified details of a human form in the black cutouts resonate with racial stereotypes. She has said, "The silhouette says a lot with very little information, but that's also what the stereotype does."
Kara Walker: Rise Up Ye Mighty Race! at the Art Institute of Chicago
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 and mistresses and slave men, women, and children enact a subverted version of the past in an attempt to reconfigure their status and representation.
In the Chicago exhibition, she returns to the cut-paper medium in monumental form for a new commissioned installation that she has designed especially for display at the Art Institute. The installation, titled Rise Up Ye Mighty Race! (2013), includes five large framed graphite drawings and 40 small framed mixed-media drawings along with the cut paper silhouettes. The title refers to comments made by Barack Obama in his 1995 book, Dreams from My Father, about the challenges of community organizing in Chicago, in which he quotes the Jamaican political leader Marcus Garvey (1887–1940). Merging handwritten text with the images in the drawings, the work takes a diaristic form that revolves around The Turner Diaries, written in 1978 by the white nationalist William Luther Pierce, and investigates the notion of the “race war” as it exists in the contemporary imagination. Walker has referred to the work in progress as, “a kind of paranoid panorama wall work — with supplemental drawings large and small, to chronicle what can be called a diary of my ever-present, never-ending war with race."
The Art Institute of Chicago Webiste