At first glance Kara Walker’s work recalls the genteel art of 18th-century black-paper silhouette portraiture. Upon closer inspection, however, Walker’s allegorical tableaux of the antebellum South reveal grimly absurd scenarios in which stereotypical plantation figures engage in macabre, violent, sexual, and scatological interactions. The artist draws her content from many sources, including American slave narratives, genre paintings, Civil War battle reenactments, and “bodice ripper” romance novels. Integrating the pictorial vocabularies of times past, Walker presents conflicting realities and role reversals that evoke parallels to the racial power struggles inherent in American society today. This installment of the New Work series is the artist’s first solo museum exhibition on the West Coast.
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Kara Walker: Upon My Many Masters — An Outline is supported by the Collectors Forum of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Additional support is generously provided by Sotheby’s and the Saul Rosen Foundation.