Graduate student Ursula Lecky has been an ardent supporter of conceptually-driven protest art – particularly that which documents African-American life and culture since she was a small girl.
While her tastes gravitate toward the styles of muralist Jose Clemente Orozco, Lecky grew increasingly fond of African-American artist Kara Walker after touring her 2014 Domino’s Sugar plant exhibit A Subtlety: or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, in Brooklyn. The Marvelous Sugar Baby is a massive sculpture of sugar in the likeness of a Black female Sphinx. Along the path leading to the Sphinx, Walker cast sculptures of small children carrying basket loads of cane that spoke to the power, consumption, wealth inequity, and industrial might that impoverished bodies continue to endure. Considered among the most innovative, imaginative, and controversial artists this era, a sampling of Walker’s work is currently being housed at the David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland until May 29.
With Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker’s Tales of Slavery and Power, visitors are treated to 60 of Walker’s works, as well as her signature black paper cutout silhouettes, an array of prints, and a wall installation. Calling it a magnificent examination of race, gender, and sexuality, Lecky, who attended the opening reception at the Driskell Center, said the exhibitionis emotional.
“Walker works from an historical understanding of how violence and enslavement informed not only race, but gender, sexuality, and power. Her use of cut-outs – something generally associated with young children and innocence – to depict the everyday horrors and dehumanization of African Americans is powerful,” Lecky said. “You are forced to take each piece in and digest both their obvious and underlying meanings. In an age where Black people are having to remind the world that Black lives matter, Walker’s work could not be more poignant.”
At age 27, Walker became the second youngest recipient of one of the most significant and coveted awards in the country, the MacArthur Foundation’s Genius Grant. Her works are included in permanent collections at The Baltimore Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, among others.
“Kara Walker and her work represent a seminal juncture in the discourse on race and the representation of the Black body as art subject and object. Her work, which has provoked passionate reactions in audiences around the world, has been described as brilliant and original by the art establishment while some audiences with a more personal investment in her re-imagination of historical events claim her to be a constructed foil to displace a more honest and penetrating critique of the racial history of America,” said
Professor Curlee R. Holton, executive director of the David C. Driskell Center.
The exhibition runs through May 29. In conjunction with the exhibit, the Driskell Center will host a panel discussion “Emancipating the Past: Unchain the Future,” which will explore Walker’s imagery as a point of departure for discussing issues of slavery, race, sexuality, violence, and gender. Dr. Michele Wallace, professor at the Graduate Center, CUNY will moderate the panel which includes notable speakers and scholars. For more information on the exhibition and the upcoming panel discussion, visit www.driskellcenter.umd.edu