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Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love

Kara Walker, Darkytown Rebellion, 2001. Cut paper and projection on wall, 14 x 37 ft. (4.3 x 11.3 m) overall. Musee d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg. Photograph courtesy the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

On view now at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York are more than 200 works by Kara Walker, featured artist in Season Two of Art:21—Art in the Twenty-First Century, in her career retrospective exhibition entitled My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love.

The show presents a comprehensive grouping of Walker’s work to date, featuring paintings, drawings, shadow puppetry, light projections, and video animations. These examine notions of the raw intersection of race, gender, and sexuality through iconic, silhouetted figures, which offer an extended contemplation on the nature of figurative representation and narrative in contemporary art.

While Walker draws inspiration from sources like the antebellum South, testimonial slave narratives, historical novels, and minstrel shows, she generally conflates fact and fiction to uncover the living roots of racial and gender bias.

The complexity of her imagination and her meticulous command of art history have caused her silhouettes to cast shadows on conventional thinking about race representation in the context of discrimination, exclusion, sexual desire, and love. “It’s interesting that as soon as you start telling the story of racism, you start reliving the story,” Walker says. “You keep creating a monster that swallows you. But as long as there’s a Darfur, as long as there are people saying ‘Hey, you don’t belong here’ to others, it only seems realistic to continue investigating the terrain of racism.”

First premiering at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, this exhibition, organized by Philippe Vergne and Yasmil Raymond at the Walker in close collaboration with the artist, will be at the Whitney through February 8, 2008, after which it will travel to UCLA’s Hammer Museum in Los Angeles from March 2-June 8, 2008.

Read more about the Whitney’s exhibition here.

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