Posted by: kishi22s | November 17, 2015

Kara Walker’s Art

After our class visit to the MHC Art Museum, I wanted an excuse to share more of Kara Walker’s amazing prints and silhouettes!  Here is the one we saw last night:

no world

(Kara Walker, no world, 2010. [plate: 23 7/8 x 35 5/8″ (60.6 x 90.5 cm); sheet: 30 1/4 x 40 3/4″ (76.8 x 103.5 cm)]


It’s actually the first of a series of six prints called An Unpeopled Land in Uncharted Waters.  I’ve included them in order here:


Kara Walker, beacon (after R.G.), 2010. [plate: 10 5/8 x 7-7/8″ (27 x 20 cm); sheet: 30 1/4 x 11 7/8″ (76.8 x 30.2 cm)]



Kara Walker, savant, 2o10. [plate: 24 x 13 7/8″ (61 x 35.2 cm); sheet: 30 1/4 x 17 7/8″ (76.8 x 45.4 cm)]


the secret sharerer

Kara Walker, the secret sharerer, 2010. [plate: 23 3/4 x 23 3/4″ (60.3 x 60.3 cm); sheet: 30 1/4 x 27 3/4″ (76.8 x 70.5 cm)]



Kara Walker, buoy, 2010. [plate: 23 3/4 x 32 1/8″ (60.3 x 81.6 cm); sheet: 30 1/4 x 36 1/4″ (76.8 x 92.1 cm)]



Kara Walker, dread, 2010. [plate: 23 7/8 x 11 7/8″ (60.6 x 30.2 cm); sheet: 30 3/8 x 15 7/8″ (77.2 x 40.3 cm)]

As with a lot of Kara Walker’s work, I have a hard time unpacking the layers of symbolic and stereotypical imagery contained in this series.  I’m especially confused by savant; I think it is a black woman, with her face covered by a white mask or bonnet, and some sort of flying insect (a fly or bee) to the left of her face.  The word “AGAIN” is written above the bow at the top of the mask (in quotes), and background is split in half–gray on the top, and white on the bottom.  I think this piece asks if color determines intelligence, then crushes the idea with an absurd mask on a person.  They cannot see, speak, or even breathe, suffocating the woman as she tries to meet the societal standards of 19th century America.  I still don’t know what to do with the fly or the words, and would love some input on what all of you think!

If you’re interested, I also found an amazing video on Kara Walker from PBS, which shows how she works and creates, as well as why she uses specific forms of imagery together.  It’s about 50 minutes, but the first 15 minutes show her setting up and cutting the images for an installation.

And, because I am so fascinated by her art (and wanted to show the scale and gorgeous craft in her paper silhouettes), here is one of her first installations, based on the novel, Gone with the Wind.


Kara Walker, Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart, 1994. [Overall 13 x 50′ (396.2 x 1524 cm) ]

(For more information, here is the link to the MoMA entry for the installation:


  1. Stephanie, thanks so much for sharing more of Walker’s extraordinary work, including the series of which “no world” is a part.

  2. I love Kara Walker’s work! I am most fascinated by her use of positive and negative spaces, and how those spaces can be inverted. So what we think is the negative space or shadow can actually be the main subject and focus. Moreover, none of her compositions and arrangements are random- they are carefully constructed to play with our sense of perception.

    I too am confused by the title “savant” because it is a term for a mentally disabled person that exhibits profound and prodigious capabilities. I once saw the savant artist, Stephen Wiltshire from the UK, live, drawing the skyline of Singapore from memory after a helicopter ride around the island. It was utterly fascinating. But the number of people who showed up were just gawking and taking pictures of him; it reminded me of a scene from some spectacle, like visitors at the zoo.

    I’m not sure if Walker was trying to emphasize that when White ideology is imposed on Black women they not only become caricatures, but are also suffocated and repressed. Objectification hinders intelligence, and by reducing the figure to a shadow, her brain, represented by the black and grey matter cannot function in a society that dictates what is considered “intelligent.”

    Perhaps Walker was trying to say that Black women are like savants; if they are not given the right space and environment, they will not be able to prosper and grow, despite having so much to offer. Black women may not look or speak like other women but they are just as intelligent- the world just can’t see it, because people are told otherwise over and over AGAIN.

    Stephen Wiltshire, may not have the IQ expected to be the norm for society, but in defying societal standards, he exceeds our expectations through his marvelous artwork.

    Now that I think about it, Walker may have deliberately covered the face, to divert the viewer’s attention to not what the woman looks like, but what she possesses- what she is capable of. Maybe we aren’t supposed to think of her features or her body, just her mind and how there is more to her than the the human eye. We must look beyond the mask and think of her intelligence.

    Does this artwork provide a sense of “honorific and repressive” justice like Tagg suggests? Is this piece supposed to be both uplifting and humiliating, both for the viewer and the subject?

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