From Black and White to Living Color: The Collected Motion Pictures and Accompanying Documents of Kara E. Walker, Artist.

Kara Walker Sprüth Magers

This is the first retrospective of Kara Walker’s video works at Sprüth Magers London. Film has long played a crucial role in Kara Walker’s groundbreaking artistic practice. Eight of Walker’s films highlight her diverse approach to filmmaking, signature use of silhouettes, and insightful handling of space, sound and time to expose profound and enduring historical traumas and narratives. The exhibition will also include an array of artefacts that shed light on Walker’s process as she conceives of and composes her films. Shot lists, handwritten notes, cut-and-pasted lines of text, sketches and puppets are interspersed with the artist’s moving images, deepening our understanding of her films and her expansive practice of unforgettable work across mediums.

The concept of the exhibition has been formulated for many years by Hilton Als, who himself has known Walker for several years. The exhibition moves from the earliest film, from 2004, entitled Testimony: Narrative of a Negress Burdened by Good Intentions, to later works such as Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale, 2011. Walker’s film works develop her early cut-paper series into short videos that evolve the paper silhouettes into small hand-operated puppets. After initially experimenting with shadow projections overlaid onto her cut-paper works, Walker’s use of puppets developed from reading German books on shadow puppet theatre and studying the work of animator Lotte Reiniger, whose early cartoon films preceded those of Walt Disney.

The films range, literally, from black and white to ‘living color’ [sic] montages, tackling issues of black history, racial and gender disparities in a bold and brutal look at America’s bloody past. A historical tableaux of life in the antebellum South, inspired by Walker’s own youth spent living in racially charged Georgia, the films are composed of semi-linear narratives which are interspersed with surrealist scenes that add to the referential complexities. Depicting the harrowing psychological impact of slavery and its legacy, drawing a subtle contrast between historic and present-day race issues, Walker’s use of silhouettes and dark, dramatic, shadowy settings offer an aesthetic interpretation of the darkness of her subject matter. The silhouette/puppetry aesthetic manifests a double legacy: silhouettes were often the choice for bourgeois portraiture in a pre- or early photographic era, but they were also used to depict racially over-determined ‘scientific’ misrepresentations. Thus the puppets call on universally recognisable iconography (in the form of historical caricatures) to portray the harsh realities of the black American experience, enacting obscene and tragic scenarios that parody and draw upon the historical realism of slavery and the fantastical space of the romance novel to create seductive yet nightmarish fictions. In deploying caricatures in this way, Walker’s films link black bodies and their exploitations to the development of (American) artistic aesthetics.

Duration 04 October 2019 - 21 December 2019
Times Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 6pm
Cost Free
Venue Sprüth Magers (London)
Address 7A Grafton Street, London, W1S 4EJ
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