Critically acclaimed artist Kara Walker has, over the years, pursued the silhouette's implications and transformations in paintings, drawings, collages, shadow puppets, cut steel, film and video animations, and "magic-lantern" projections. She returns to her signature cut-paper silhouettes in monumental form for a new site-specific, commissioned work titled Rise Up Ye Mighty Race! (2013), created specifically for the Art Institute of Chicago
. The room installation--on view from February 21 through August 11, 2013, in Gallery 293 of the Modern Wing--includes five large-framed graphite drawings and 40 small-framed, mixed-media drawings along with the cut paper silhouettes.
Kara Walker is one of the most important artists of her generation, best known for cut-paper silhouettes that critically address race, gender, sexuality, and power. Most often taking the form of large-scale tableaux of antebellum stereotypes, they present slavery as an absurd theater of eroticized violence and self-deprecating behavior. Her flat caricatures--mammies, sambos, slave mistresses, masters, and Southern belles--are depicted nearly life-size and arranged in narrative sequences that further exaggerate the already grotesque history of slavery. For Walker, the simplified details of a human form in the black or white 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's installation for the Art Institute, Rise Up Ye Mighty Race!, includes five large-framed graphite drawings and forty 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 cites the famous line by 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 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."
Kara Walker was born in 1969 in Stockton, California and currently lives and works in New York. Some of the artist's solo museum exhibitions include Presenting Negro Scenes Drawn Upon My Passage Through the South and Reconfigured for the Benefit of Enlightened Audiences Wherever Such May Be Found, By Myself, Missus K.E.B. Walker, Colored at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (1997); Kara Walker at the Met: After the Deluge at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2006); and Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love (2007-2008), which premiered at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and travelled to the Whitney Museum and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Walker is the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships such as the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Achievement Award, the Deutsche Bank Prize, and the Larry Aldrich Award.