Kara Walker’s art

Kara Walker - The Renaissance Society

Presenting Negro Scenes Drawn Upon My Passage
Through the South and
Reconfigured for the Benefit of
Enlightened Audiences Wherever Such May
Be Found,
By Myself, Missus K.E.B. Walker,
January 12 – February 23, 1997

Picture and Text from The Renaissance Society, the University of Chicago.

Walker has an exhibit at the Whitney, in NYC, through Feb. 3. The art is often beautiful despite its exceptional portrayal of very ugly racist and sexist stereotypes. The picture above was intentionally chosen (at least in this context) to leave to readers the decision of whether to view some profoundly challenging work.  Thus:

Walker’s work is often said to appropriate and subvert stereotypes, but that might be a little misleading.  She herself at least at times takes her art to present stereotypes as they infect us all.  She is quoted by Newsday as saying, “I want people to respond and to be aware that if a goody-two-shoes like me can have all of this going on her head, then nobody’s safe.”

She has been very controversial; though she has been awarded a McCarthur “genius” award, she was sharply criticized by some African Americans as promulgating negative stereotypes, perhaps even to get money from bigots.  Her comments on presenting positive images of black people are again quoted by Newsday:

Walker, for her part, questioned the very notion of a positive black image: “Every image produced of ‘us’ is mediated – filtered through the grounds of years of misrepresentation, bitterness and suspicion,” she scrawled on one of the beautifully illustrated diary pages on display at the Whitney. She doesn’t think it’s possible to mold new, untainted forms. We can only deconstruct those that already exist and uncover their ongoing corruption.

She’s a feminist you might want to know more about.

Religion, Politics, Culture Shock

As a transplanted American in the UK, it’s very clear to me how different these supposedly similar cultures are.  And nowhere is this more obvious than with issues of religion and politics.  I thought I’d share a bit of that with you (especially perhaps the Americans).  Back in the US, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been declaring, in a widely praised speech, that “freedom requires religion”.  Over here, in the country that actually does have an official state religion:

    Tony Blair has reported that he never felt he could discuss his religious beliefs because he’d sound like a “nutter”.
    The new leader of the 3rd party, the Liberal Democrats* has mentioned publicly that he’s an atheist.  On the BBC radio report I listened to, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Michael Portillo were interviewed. The Archbishop of Canterbury says he doesn’t think anyone should care about this.  Michael Portillo, a former Conservative Cabinet member, now sort of an elder statesman, says he thinks the only people one should worry about are the ones with really strong religious convictions. (He does worry about atheists who are intolerant of believers, but makes it clear he doesn’t take Clegg to be such.)***
    *Yes, they’re called the “LIBERAL DEMOCRATS”! And that’s not the reason they don’t win the big elections– a key reason for that is that they’re seen as too middle class. **
    **Yes, TOO MIDDLE CLASS, an inconceivability in US politics.
    ***Not enough culture shock yet?  How about the fact that Portillo has admitted to having had gay sex, and NOBODY REALLY CARED.

Enjoy the culture-shock!  And, just to add yet another twist, in the UK everyone seems to say “Happy Christmas” to everyone else, without any thought that it’s odd e.g. for one Jew to say this to another.  At first I thought this must mean a real assumption that everyone’s Christian.  Now it seems much more like it doesn’t occur to people that there could be such a presupposition involved in the greeting.  (Maybe kind of like atheists saying “bless you” when someone sneezes.)  So, hey, Happy Christmas!  (Nope, still doesn’t feel right to me.)