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Woman of the Week: Kara Walker

This article is a part of our ‘Woman of the Week’ series, which highlights the work of cool contemporary women and ways in which we can support them!

The Basics: Famous and controversial conceptual artist born 1969.

Who She Is:

Kara Walker rose to fame in 1990 when she introduced large cut paper silhouettes exploring race, violence, exploitation, and slavery. Her large paper silhouettes largely deal with the American south and slavery, but she’s also done large installation art, like a giant crouching sphinx cast in white sugar that she placed in a Brooklyn sugar factory. She also creates historical paintings. Her art has been featured all around America, including the MoMA.

Walker was born in California, the daughter of a painter, but moved to Georgia when she was 13. After moving she experienced racism in her community. She began reading books about narratives of the American South to understand the racism around her. She attended the Atlanta College of Art, focusing on racism and race and then went to Rhode Island School of design for graduate school, where she began to focus on sex, race, and stereotypes in her work. She has faced both backlash and praise for her work. She won the Macarthur genius award in 1998. Walker is also incredibly private. She has taught at Columbia University and currently lives in Brooklyn with her daughter.

Why You Should Love Her:  

Kara Walker is truly one of the greatest contemporary artists of this day and age. Her work is incredibly controversial, but she is incredibly outspoken about how her art is meant to challenge people to be aware of stereotypes and how it is meant to make people uncomfortable and even angry.

Walker’s art is both incredible and grotesque. While an undergrad, she was uncomfortable exploring race in her artwork but began to branch out, and by graduate school, she focused especially on themes of race and violence. She also works with interpretations of famous works like “Gone With The Wind”, exploring the idea of the ‘romanticized South’ and how race and identity are expressed. She often ties her art back to present-day issues. Her art is multi-layered because each piece ties in with racism and sexism of the past and the present (And that in itself is a statement about our current racial tensions in the US and the world). Although she is quieter and less outspoken (she rarely does interviews), she and her art are incredibly significant, especially with the current racial tension, sexism, and exploitation occurring in America.

Featured Quote:  “I make art for anyone who’s forgot what it feels like to put up a fight.”

How to Support Her:

Go see her art (visit the MoMA or the Walker Center). Read about and support women artists, exhibitions, and women-run galleries. Educate yourself about race in America by reading books, listening to peers. Tell your story of injustice, whether through art, speech, literature, poetry, etc.  Volunteer at art galleries that support women, and learn about more women artists. Art is a pretty male-dominated field so women in art are incredibly important.

Image Credit: Feature,1,2


Lindy is a current senior at Kenyon college majoring in Anthropology and Art History. She enjoys travel, books, cinema, art, food, and Scottish Whisky. Someday she hopes to travel around the world with a corgi named Max.
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