Tracing Slavery: II

Kara Walker: Harper's Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated)

Walker’s work deals extensively with the experience and identity of African Americans—past and present, which she explores in part through contemporary imagery portrayed as narratives cast in the manner of nineteenth-century cut silhouettes. At first nostalgic, perhaps charming in appearance, Walker’s silhouette imagery depicts the brutal reality of racial violence in American society. 

Unlike traditional silhouette artists, Walker does not create portrait likenesses, rather, she employs the medium as a way to interrogate history and expose racism. In Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated), Walker “corrects” the Reconstruction-era publication by overlaying its images with silhouettes of African Americans, whose presence the publishers minimized so as to make the volumes more appealing to Southern White readers. 

Walker’s work and the nineteenth century artistic sources she references are paired with hollow-cut profile silhouettes made by Moses Williams (c. 1775–c. 1825), featured in Tracing Slavery I on display in conjunction with Walker's prints.

Kara Walker: Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated) is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The C.F. Foundation in Atlanta supports the museum’s traveling exhibition program, Treasures to Go. 

All images copyright © Kara Walker 2005.

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