Magazine Home  |  News  |  Features  |  Reviews  |  Books  |  People  |  Horoscope  
Back to Reviews 96


 The End of Uncle Tom, 
1995, cut paper and 
adhesive; all photos 
courtesy Brent Sikkema 
& Wooster Gardens

© ArtNet Worldwide 1997

 The End of 
Uncle Tom (detail).

 Before the Battle 
(Chickin' Dumplin'), 

 The Battle of Atlanta:
 Being the Narrative 
of a Negress in
(detail), 1995.

 The Battle of 

kara Walker 
at wooster 

by Maureen Wong

As I walked into the Kara Walker show at 

Brent Sikkema and Wooster Gardens (it 

closed Apr. 13), I experienced the feeling 

of being caught in a visual undertow. I had 

lost my footing and been pulled out away 

from the shore of the known, tumbled 

between the crashing waves of Baroque 

excess and 19th-century Victorian 

restraint. I was sucked into a tumultuous 

sea and tossed around so that I lost any 

sense of the horizon or the sky, and then 

my face was dragged across the harsh gritty 

bottom of a sordid history.

In the two years since the 26-year-old 

Walker received her MFA from the Rhode 

Island School of Design, she has turned the 

art world upside down with work that is 

elegant, lyrical and scatalogical. Her show 

at Wooster Gardens, entitled "From the 

Bowels to the Bosom: An American Tableaux 

Cut from Black Paper by Miss K. Walker, a 

Free Negress of Remarkable Talent," was a 

kind of review for the New York audience, 

consisting as it did of three installations 

that were shown elsewhere in 1995. "Look 

Away! Look Away! Look Away!"  was first 

exhibited at the Center for Curatorial 

Studies at Bard College in Croton-on-

Hudson, N.Y. "The Battle of Atlanta, Being 

the Narrative of a Negress in the Flames of 

Desire"  was shown at Nexus in Atlanta. "The 

End of Uncle Tom and the Grand Allegorial 

Tableau of Eva in Heaven"  was seen at the 

Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville in Paris.

In her installations she uses highly 

crafted Victorian paper cutout silhouettes 

to create a dense narrative. But these 

seemingly bucolic landscape scenes are 

repeatedly disrupted by images of 

dismemberment and perverse, abusive and 

humorous sexual liaisons. In one example, 

in "Look Away!...," an old man with his 

pants down is on his hands and knees. He is 

tempting a child while a dog licks his ass 

and a woman, with her back turned to them, 

smokes a pipe and grooms her dog. In a 

lovely Postmodernist way, Walker takes on a 

debased Victorian-era persona to frame her 

very contemporary scatalogical imagery, 

which itself proposes a kind of alternate 

or repressed history of slavery and its 

social relations--all played as a big joke.