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Kara Walker is a contemporary African American artist who explores race, gender, sexuality, violence and identity in her work. She is best known for her room-size tableaux of black cut-paper silhouettes.
Walker was born in Stockton, California. Her retired father is a formally educated artist, a professor, and an administrator. Her mother worked as an administrative assistant and was inspired by her family to reveal her own artistic talents. Walker's education includes an MFA at Rhode Island School of Design in Painting/Printmaking, and a BFA in Painting/Printmaking at Atlanta College of Art.
Some of Walker's exhibitions have been shown at The Renaissance Society in Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Walker has also been shown internationally and featured on PBS. Her work graces the cover of musician Arto Lindsay's recording, Salt (2004).
Walker's silhouette images work to bridge unfinished folklore in the Antebellum South, raising identity and gender issues for African American women in particular. However, because of her confrontational approach to the topic, Walker's artwork is reminiscent of Andy Warhol's Pop Art during the 1960s (indeed, Walker says she adored Warhol growing up as a child). Her nightmarish yet fantastical images incorporate a cinematic feel. Walker uses images from historical textbooks to show how African American slaves were depicted during Antebellum South. Some of her images are grotesque, for example, in The Battle of Atlanta,  a white man, presumably a Southern soldier, is raping a black girl while her brother watches in shock, a white child is about to insert his sword into a nearly-lynched black woman's vagina, and a male black slave rains tears all over an adolescent white boy.
In 1997, Walker—who was 28 at the time—was one of the youngest people to receive a MacArthur fellowship.
In response to Hurricane Katrina, Walker created "After the Deluge," since the hurricane had devastated many poor and black areas of New Orleans. Walker was bombarded with news images of "black corporeality," including fatalities from the hurricane reduced to bodies and nothing more. She likened these casualties to African slaves piled onto ships for the Middle Passage, the Atlantic crossing to America. “ I was seeing images that were all too familiar. It was black people in a state of life-or-death desperation, and everything corporeal was coming to the surface: water, excrement, sewage. It was a re-inscription of all the stereotypes about the black body.”
In 2007, Walker was listed among Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in The World, Artists and Entertainers, in a citation written by fellow artist Barbara Kruger.
Walker lives in New York and is on the faculty of the MFA program at Columbia University.
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