Kara Walker’s art disturbs me. The first time I experienced her work, I was in Arcana Books in Culver City and I found a catalog from one of her cut out shows (I think it was at the Walker Art Center). I was drawn by the nostalgic look of the cutouts which on some cellular level tapped into fond memories. Then I looked deeper…
With every turn of the page the themes grew more disturbing transporting me to a dark place in our history that we don’t like to visit. On numerous occasions during visits to MOCA L.A. I’ve been drawn to the above sketch by the artist and each time I view it I see something new. The title in itself is fascinating.
“Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.” ~Cesar A Cruz
This piece shook me out of my comfort level. I value Walker’s ability to force a deeper conversation and to confront extremely uncomfortable themes of race, sexuality, power, bias and violence in the context of our past while also reflecting the realities of our present.
Kara Walker’s work came to mind when I heard the confounding news today about the Oklahoma legislature voting to ban AP History over some notion that the new curriculum teaches students what’s “bad” about America.
I found this quote by Walker on MOCA’s website, and I think it crystallizes this desire to compartmentalize our history and reframe it in the most positive light. We want the whimsical, crafty cutouts, but don’t want to peel back those layers to get to the real story.
I don’t know how much I believe in redemptive stories, even though people want them and strive for them. They’re satisfied with stories of triumph over evil, but then triumph is a dead-end. Triumph never sits still. Life goes on. People forget and make mistakes. Heroes are not completely pure, and villains aren’t purely evil. I’m interested in the continuity of conflict, the creation of racist narratives, or nationalist narratives, or whatever narratives people use to construct a group identity and to keep themselves whole—such activity has a darker side to it, since it allows people to lash out at whoever’s not in the group. That’s a contact thread that flummoxes me.”