Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker’s Tales of Slavery and Power

Bellevue Arts Museum is now offering an exhibition of Kara Walker’s work, especially her phenomenal, provocative, in-your-face silhouettes with their stinging social commentary. If you don’t know her art do get to the Museum before Nov. 27 to be introduced to her genius, and, if you are familiar with her work, go and be reminded of just how powerful her art is.

One of the youngest recipients of the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Genius Award, she delights and disturbs viewers with her images that shine a spotlight on issues of race and gender in the American past and present.


The Keys to the Coop, edition 39/40, 1997, Linoleum block. 46 X 60 1/2 in. Photo: Courtesy of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation

Although this show contains video, sculpture, and a mural, it’s the stark black silhouettes that most enthralled me, especially the depictions of white plantation owners and their black slaves. She cuts detailed images that mock the stereotypes of both races. They are powerfully funny at the same time that they are effective representations of an evil history and a disturbing comment on contemporary race relations.

As one major collector has said about Walker’s work, “It’s provocative and impossible to view passively.” It does indeed cause the viewer to question his or her own preconceived notions. First you’ll laugh at the image before you, then you’ll be overwhelmed by what it all means.

Walker’s work is in major museums in this country and abroad. How nice to have some of it here, even if only for a short time.

Through November 27, Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way NE, Bellevue, (425-519-0770 or www.bellevuearts.org).

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