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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Art of Kara Walker

“One of my earliest memories involves sitting on my dad’s lap in his studio in the garage of our house and watching him draw. I remember thinking: ‘I want to do that, too,’ and I pretty much decided then and there at age 2½ or 3 that I was an artist just like Dad.” —Kara Walker

Despite the serious subject matter of slavery, power, and racism, Kara Walker employs a sense of humor in her work that ranges from the cynical and sarcastic to “toilet” humor laughs at bodily functions and sexuality. She uses stereotypes and caricatures—whether slave, master, black, white, male, or female—and exaggerates physical features to emphasize their race and often their position of power. Cartoonists and political commentators employ similar tools to allow us to giggle at current events and politicians even when the subject matter is serious. By poking fun at our constructions of race and character, power, and history, Walker presents slavery as an absurd theater of eroticized violence and self-deprecating behavior, and she dares to laugh at authority, be it the slave master or the whole of official history.

The impulse to find these images funny comes from the deep sense of discomfort they cause. Walker’s amusements intersect with shame when one realizes one is laughing at suffering. In this way, Walker navigates the limits of humor and challenges the viewer’s sense of what is comical.

Learn more about Kara Walker by going here.
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