University of Massachusetts Amherst
Fine Arts Center, Presidents Dr, Amherst
The University Museum of Contemporary Art (UMCA) at UMass Amherst is proud to present Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker’s Tales of Slavery and Power .
Kara Walker has become one of the most widely-known and controversial artists working today. Exploring the painful history of American race relations through large-scale silhouette installations, Walker’s work transforms historical materials, literary sources and popular culture, challenging us to access buried emotions about our nation’s past. In her hands, the medium of silhouette becomes a tool for examining the traumatic legacy of slavery.
This exhibition brings together 60 works in a variety of mediums, from printmaking (such as lithograph, etching with aquatint, photogravure, linocut, and screen-print), to wall murals, metal sculpture and shadow puppetry. The exhibition was curated by Jessi Di Tillio, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon. All works in this exhibition come from the Portland, Oregon-based collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation.
Collector Jordan Schnitzer has said, “Kara Walker is one of the most important artists in our collection. Her art needs to be seen and the themes need to be examined. No artist today does a better job of forcing the viewers to deal with stereotypes, gender, and race.”
The exhibition includes three narrative series — The Emancipation Approximation (1999–2000), Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War: Annotated (2005), and An Unpeopled Land in Uncharted Waters (2010) — along with numerous individual works that underline Walker’s use of Antebellum and Reconstruction-era imagery and themes. Her narratives unfold in elaborate tableaux that tackle issues of race, slavery, sexuality, identity, and power. The works, which are inventive and painful but also satirical and humorous, were selected for the exhibition to display the range of approaches Walker uses to explore the legacy of slavery.
Walker explained, “One theme in my artwork is the idea that a Black subject in the present tense is a container for specific pathologies from the past and is continually growing and feeding off those maladies….” By looking carefully at a selection of Walker’s projects in different media, this exhibition emphasizes the interface between technique and concept in her work. Walker’s use of historically inflected techniques investigates the question: “How is contemporary identity shaped and affected by the imagery from the past?”