Kara Walker’s devastating new exhibition suggests that such an account might be given visibly. Or at least that Walker is coming close. Witness her mad Boschian American Babylon of race, irredeemable evil, barbarity, hatred, demons, white people self-cretinizing, lynchings, dominance, submission, rage, modern Black Power figures, shuffling black cleaning ladies, beneficent whites, Civil War soldiers, plantation owners drawn and quartered by rebellious slaves, pickaninnies and Sambos sexually servicing white masters or being castrated. See also the artist herself, passive, being fucked. Taken together, this show is as terrifyingly beautiful as Goya’s masterpiece of Saturn devouring his children, a shadow of something as dark and mysterious as Melville’s Pequod.
It is not, and should not be, a surprise that Walker has achieved something this monstrously magnificent. I’ve written on Walker since 1994, the year I was thunderstruck when I saw her student work at RISD — a drawing, rendered in chocolate, of a “white” child trying to wash the color off a “black” child. Immediately, I saw a coming avenging angel. Beginning with the cut-paper silhouette mural she exhibited at the Drawing Center that same year, which also focused on historical brutality and ugliness, Walker has been exactly that. And has also been attacked by established artists of color who said — and still say! — she’d gone too far, making artworks they felt were a disservice to their political cause. Since then, she’s only gotten better, braver, stronger, more skilled, fearless.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY & CULTURE | WASHINGTON, DC
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. It was established by Act of Congress in 2003, following decades of efforts to promote and highlight the contributions of African Americans. To date, the Museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts and nearly 100,000 individuals have become charter members. The Museum opened to the public on September 24, 2016, as the 19th and newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution. (Biography.com).