History Collusion Of Fact And Fiction
“Walker is less an artist of history, whether racial or artistic history, than a historian of fantasy.” —Kevin Young 1
The historical setting for much of Kara Walker’s work is the American pre—Civil War antebellum South. While this is the backdrop for many of her scenes, Walker does not represent a necessarily truthful depiction of history. Fact, fiction, and fantasy are intertwined; exaggerated truths and fictionalized events parade as history lessons that viewers must unpack, sort out, and ultimately decide which elements are true. Through this scrambling of “truth,” The artist is also commenting on the way that official history, particularly that of African Americans, is just as constructed as her stories.
Examples of Work
Gone, An Historical Romance of a Civic War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart 1994
cut paper on wall
13 X 50 ft. (4 X 15.2 m)
Collection Yvonne Force Villareal, New York
Slavery!Slavery! Presenting a GRAND and LIFELIKE Panoramic Journey into Picturesque South Slavery of “Life at ‘Ol’ Virginny’s Hole’ (sketches from Plantation Life)” See the Peculiar Institution as never before! All cut from black paper by the able hand of Kara Elizabeth Walker an Emancipated Negress and leader of her Cause 1997
cut paper on wall
12 X 85 ft. (3.7 X 25.9 m)
Collections of Peter Norton and Eileen Norton, Santa Monica, California
Sample Discussion Questions
Discuss the stories being told in these two murals. Describe what is happening in the two above highlighted works by Walker.
- How do these images compare to the history of slavery as you were taught it?
- Do you think they represent "real" history?
- Why or why not?
- Whose history is Kara Walker telling?
- Is it possible for an account of history to ever be true?
"I was overcome by the need to re-create a race-based conflict, a need to feel a certain amount of pain...Only problmen is that I am too aware of my overzealous imagination interfering in the basic facts of history...A collusion of fact and fiction that has informed me probably since day one." 2
“I think my work sort of minimcs the past, but it’s all about the present. Oh, some great artist in the past, Courbet or somebody, said there’s no historical art that isn’t about present…” 3
"The work is two parts research and one part paranoid hysteria." 4
1 Kevin Young, "Triangular Trade: Coloring, Remarking, and Narrative in the Writings of Kara Walker," Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love. (Minneapolis, MN.: Walker Art Center, 2007)
2 Kara Walker, "Kara Walker interviewed by Liz Armstrong," in no place (like home), ed. Richard Flood (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1997)
3 Kara Walker in Tommy Lot, “Kara Walker Speaks: A Public Conversation on Racism, Art, and Politics.” Black Renaissance 3, no. 1 (October 31, 2000).
4 Kara Walker, interviewed by Susan Sollins in the video documentary Art:21—Art in the Twenty-First Century, Season 2, VHS and DVD (New York: PBS, 2003).