Kara Walker, “Middle Passages #5”

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Kara Walker’s work has been detailed on this blog in Courtney Young’s excellent post “The Slave Trade in Silhouette”. The exhibition detailed in that post focuses on antebellum life, and throws into shockingly vivid relief the pattern of exploitation of a people for generations. Walker also did a series of engravings titled “Middle Passages,” a series of five collages (cut paper and gouache on board, 2004). These use her same technique of using silhouettes, an art form she selected both because of the contrast between the traditional Victorian art form and the violence of her imagery, but because “the silhouette says a lot with very little information, but that’s also what the stereotype does.” http://www.artic.edu/exhibition/kara-walker-rise-ye-mighty-race While all 5 are striking and can be seen here, the one that must stuck with me was the last, “Middle Passages #5.” The background, as in each of the collages, is grey and nondescript; we don’t know quite where the subject is or where she’s going, and she likely doesn’t either— though that she’s going left, West on a Mercatur map, would suggest to the Americas. The dark coloring speaks to this uncertainty and the figure’s lack of control (as do her startled expression and open mouth), as well as giving the painting an ominous ambience.

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