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Kara Walker

About the title—I had wanted to title this “sketch after my Mississippi youth” or “the Excavation” as I pictured it a sort of introduction to the panorama to come. However the image, which is partly borrowed, is of an Indian mound—painted by Mr. J Egan in 1850—is meant to remind the dear viewer of another place altogether, from which we suckle life. Perhaps my rendering is too subtle…

2002

Kara Walker is best known for paper cut-outs, which come out of the tradition of Victorian-era women’s crafts, composed of large-scale black silhouettes of people and objects applied directly to white gallery walls to create nightmarish tableaux about slavery. These works challenge viewers’ ability to identify and construct narratives with only the rough outlines of figures in landscapes, presenting ideas about stereotypes and how assumptions are formulated and perpetuated. About the title is a drawing that depicts the excavation of a grave mound in the antebellum American South. The work links archaeological excavation with the process of confronting cultural memory and mythology; Walker has used “excavation” to refer to the digging up of dormant elements within psychological, emotional, and physical states.

Kara Walker (b. 1969, Stockton, California; lives and works in New York)
About the title—I had wanted to title this “sketch after my Mississippi youth” or “the Excavation” as I pictured it a sort of introduction to the panorama to come. However the image, which is partly borrowed, is of an Indian mound—painted by Mr. J Egan in 1850—is meant to remind the dear viewer of another place altogether, from which we suckle life. Perhaps my rendering is too subtle…, 2002
Graphite on paper
66 3/8 x 138 3/4 in.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Partial and promised gift of Manfred and Jennifer Simchowitz

I don’t know how much I believe in redemptive stories, even though people want them and strive for them. They’re satisfied with stories of triumph over evil, but then triumph is a dead end. Triumph never sits still. Life goes on. People forget and make mistakes. Heroes are not completely pure, and villains aren’t purely evil. I’m interested in the continuity of conflict, the creation of racist narratives, or nationalist narratives, or whatever narratives people use to construct a group identity and to keep themselves whole—such activity has a darker side to it, since it allows people to lash out at whoever’s not in the group. That’s a contact thread that flummoxes me. —Kara Walker

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