» New York – Kara Walker: “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated)” at The New York Historical Society Through June 11th, 2023

Kara Walker, Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated) (Installation View), via Art Observed

For over two decades, artist Kara Walker (b. 1969) has been making work that weaves together imagery from the antebellum South, the brutality of slavery, and racist stereotypes. Her work has stirred controversy for its use of exaggerated caricatures that reflect long-standing racialized and gendered stereotypes and for its lurid depictions of history. This mode of work takes center stage in a body of new prints on view this spring at the New York Historical Society, which challenge and re-examine methods of depiction and representation of history through pointed interjection. 

Kara Walker, Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated) (Installation View), via Art Observed

The show presents a body of work titled Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated), a series of 15 prints based on the two-volume anthology published in 1866 and 1868. Examining a range of images and scenes from the American South, from depictions of the civil war to rural scenes, on to depictions of city life and urban culture in the time directly after the end of the war, and the end of slavery, Walker makes an express point of the documents’ willful ignorance of slavery as an institution, both in terms of oppression and liberation.

Kara Walker, Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated) (Installation View), via Art Observed

Kara Walker, Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated) (Installation View), via Art Observed

The Walker’s work comments on the omission of African Americans from this narrative and urges viewers to consider the persistence of violent caricature and stereotype today. To create her prints, Walker enlarged select illustrations and then overlaid them with large stenciled figures. The silhouettes visually disrupt the scenes and suffuse them with scenarios evocative of the painful past left out of Harper’s original images. Body parts, distended figures and screaming faces dominate the surfaces of the work, invoking powerful and brutal histories of violence that lurk beneath the surface of these scenes and histories. Rather than merely allow the documents to overwrite the history of the era through its one-sided, or perhaps myopic depictions of history, Walker detunes these images and allows their histories to take on multiple meanings.

The show is open through June 11th.

– D. Creahan

Read more:
Kara Walker at the NY Historical Society [Exhibition Site]

on Wednesday, March 15th, 2023 at 12:32 pm and is filed under Art News, Featured Post, Show.
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