Artist Kara Walker’s Reflections on Race, Gender, Myth, Religion & Power a Must-See at Cleveland Museum of Art

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Through Sat 12/31

If you find yourself with time on your hands during the post-Christmas week, make sure to stop down at the Cleveland Museum of Art and check out The Ecstasy of St. Kara: Kara Walker, New Work, before it closes Sat 12/31. The 47-year-old New York-based artist, best known for her provocative cut-paper silhouettes that relate complicated narratives about African-American and colonial history as well as racial, economic and gender politics, has created a new series of large-scale works in charcoal and graphite on paper.

Walker spent some time in Rome exploring how myths, ideas of martyrdom and the history of Christianity interact with slavery, resulting in these large images that are more ambivalent and less direct than her earlier woodcuts, sometimes verging on abstraction. And the different media she’s using and the overwhelming size of the works serves to strip away the ability to distance oneself from her ideas or to relegate them to history.

Here she’s telling a contemporary story with historical overtones about predominantly racial divides and power vs. powerlessness, spurred by her reflections the rise in violence against black men and the anxiety provoked by Black Lives Matter (One drawing depicts a tombstone with the initials “BLM.”) Walker says she believes this violence was a backlash to the empowerment African-Americans felt on the election of Barack Obama and what some non-whites perceived as a diminishing of their privilege (as reflected in the birther movement and the election of Donald Trump).

“I fear that Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and all the rest were killed as proxies for the Black President,” she wrote.

The exhibit also contains pages of drawings and written reflections from her workbook as well as a reading room in which visitors can browse books of her earlier work, books about her and books she has chosen as influential on her work. The show is free, like the museum itself, and should not be missed. It’s on view through the end of this year.

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