Untitled (Scene #18 from Emancipation Approximation
portfolio), 1999–2000, Screenprint (7/20), 44 x 34 in. |
Collection of Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation. © Kara Walker
Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker’s Tales of Slavery and Power
January 25 – April 6, 2014
University of Oregon
1430 Johnson Lane
The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon presents Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker’s Tales of Slavery and Power, featuring artwork from the collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his Family Foundation, the exhibition explores Walker’s innovative approach to historical narrative and the complexities and ambiguities of racial representation in her work.
Emerging in New York in the mid-1990s, Walker has become one of the most successful and controversial artists working today. She is most famous for her black cut-paper silhouettes, which enact violent and uncanny scenes of the Antebellum South that upend notions of historical propriety. In Walker’s hands, the dainty Victorian medium of silhouette becomes a tool for examining violence, oppression, and domination. Through elegant images and dark humor, Walker’s work provides a critical forum for discussing the difficult issues that persist in American race relations 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
“Kara Walker is one of the most important artists in our collection. Her art needs to be seen and the themes need to be examined. No artist today does a better job of forcing the viewers to deal with stereotypes, gender, and race,” says Jordan Schnitzer.
Organized by the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art and curated by Jessi DiTillio, JSMA assistant curator of contemporary art, Emancipating the Past explores the aesthetic and political techniques of Walker’s art practice through a range of different projects, and brings together some of her earliest and most recent artworks.
“The artworks presented in this exhibition display the range of approaches she has taken to the silhouette and the human figure, to printmaking, and to narrative,” says DiTillio. “Beginning with some of her early works in the style for which she is best known (black silhouettes on a white ground), the exhibition moves forward to show some of her most recent and innovative artistic experiments, including sculpture and video.”
Kara Walker, honored in 2007 as one of TIME magazine's “100 Most Influential People in The World, Artists and Entertainers,” is known for her powerful visual narratives that explore the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality. Her thought-provoking and raw approach to these issues has garnered much acclaim, especially for the manner by which she examines the psychology of slavery through fictional narratives.
“The specific media that Walker selects frequently draw on the history of art and popular culture, which adds further subtle meanings to her work,” says DiTillio. “Often using outmoded technologies or old-fashioned techniques like silhouettes, eight-millimeter film, or nineteenth-century printmaking, she brings contemporary perspectives into direct confrontation with the artifacts of history.” The exhibition includes one of Walker’s most critically acclaimed large-scale print portfolios, Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated), in which she juxtaposes her trademark silhouettes with original illustrations from Harper’s 1866 text about the Civil War.
Born in 1969 in Stockton, California, and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Kara Walker lives in New York where she is on the faculty of the MFA program at Columbia University. Walker received her BFA from the Atlanta College of Art in 1991 and her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994. Early in her career, Walker became the youngest artist ever to receive a prestigious MacArthur “genius” grant, attracting new levels of publicity and notoriety.
Walker’s work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. A 1997 recipient of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Achievement Award, Walker was the United States representative to the 2002 Bienal de São Paulo.
Emancipating the Past opened at the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA, in fall 2013 and, following its display at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, will travel to the Boise Art Museum, Idaho; Tufts University Art Gallery at the Aidekman Arts Center, Medford, Massachusetts; David C. Driskell Center, University of Maryland, College Park; Springfield Art Museum, Springfield, Missouri; and the University of Wyoming Art Museum, Laramie.
Emancipating the Past is made possible by Jordan D. Schnitzer and his Family Foundation. Additional support for the exhibition is provided by the Coeta and Donald Barker Special Exhibitions Endowment, The Harold and Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation, a grant from the Oregon Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, and JSMA members.