8 Facts About Kara Walker

The artist's ironic installations and murals root out the racialised and gendered violence that remains in American society

By Google Arts & Culture

A Subtlety (2014) by Kara WalkerCreative Time

Kara Walker's ironic, iconic installations and murals root out the racial and gendered violence that remains in American society. Her art is provocative and political and inventive. Maybe you've heard about her work, but did you know these 8 facts?

She knew she was an artist from the age of 3

"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."

Resurrection Story with Patrons (2017) by Kara WalkerThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

She responded to a great culture shock

The young Walker faced an extreme culture shock when the family moved to Georgia in 1983. The multicultural environment of her native coastal California was a sharp contrast to that of Stone Mountain, Georgia, where Ku Klux Klan rallies were still held.

Harper's Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated): An Army Train (2005) by Kara WalkerThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

She turned her back on white, male-dominated painting

Walker developed her signature silhouette technique in the 1990s, after concluding that white men had dominated the medium of painting. Drawing from textbooks and illustrated novels, her scenes tell a story of horrific violence against the image of the genteel Antebellum South.

Kara Walker: Darkytown Rebellion, 2001 (2001) by Kara WalkerMudam Luxembourg – The Contemporary Art Museum of Luxembourg

Her techniques have Civil War roots

Walkers' murals and installations draws on two popular 19th-century artforms, the shadow-portrait, associated with the drawing rooms of upper-class ladies, and the panorama, which was popularised by artists depicting battlefields of the Civil War.

Study for A Subtlety (2014) by Kara WalkerCreative Time

Walker's art brings a modern, ironic twist to these old media. She has cited the artists Adrian PiperAndy Warhol, and Robert Colescott among her influences.

Study for A Subtlety (2014) by Kara WalkerCreative Time

She made an impression at a young age

Her first major show was at the Drawing Center in New York, when she was only 24. Walker caused a storm with her 25-foot-long wall installation Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart.

Study for A Subtlety (2014) by Kara WalkerCreative Time

At the age of 27, she became the second youngest recipient of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's 'Genius Grant'. Awarding the grant, the foundation recognised that Walker's art exemplified the 'vestiges of sexual, physical, and racial exploitation'.

Study for A Subtlety (2014) by Kara WalkerCreative Time

She became one of the world's most influential figures

In 2007, Walker was listed among Time Magazine′s '100 Most Influential People in The World, Artists and Entertainers'. Her citation was written by fellow feminist artist and satirist Barbara Kruger.

A Subtlety, in progress (2014) by Kara WalkerCreative Time

In 2014, she started constructing her largest work to date

A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant

Kara Walker at work (2014)Creative Time

The installation, which took the form of a colossal nude sphinx made out of sugar and wearing a 'mammie’s kerchief' attracted 130,000 visitors during the eight weeks of its exhibition at the Domino Sugar Refinery in the Williamsburg neighbourhood of Brooklyn.

A Subtlety (2014) by Kara WalkerCreative Time

Her work is exhibited worldwide

Walker's works are found in public collections across the world, including the Tate, the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Weisman Art Museum, the Menil Collection, and the Muscarelle Museum of Art.

Kara Walker's “A Subtlety” (2014) by Kara WalkerCreative Time

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