While Kara Walker works with graphite and pastel on paper in works such as “Pastorale” 2010, she is best known for her room size installations of once-controversial, life-size, cut-paper silhouettes, affixed directly to gallery walls or placed on stark white backgrounds.
She makes narratives about race and sex in America, past and present, as she deals with issues of gender, sexuality, and race. Her drawings and installations have historical significance as they document the relationships between nineteenth century masters and slaves in the American South. They reveal the aftermath of slavery when freed African Americans migrated into cities where they continued to experience a lack of freedom and justice. An example of this is her “A Work in Progress” 1998, made from cut paper and adhesive.
One of her most recent works is “Dredging the Quagmire (Bottomless Pit)” 2017. It is a nearly twenty-foot long mixed-media painting which reiterates her trademark theme: the ravages of the antebellum South. A cast of characters flees an event that is not depicted in the painting but which has clearly resulted in atrocities.
Her works have been shown in the Whitney Museum Biennial exhibition and in the 2002 Sao Paulo Biennial, representing the United States. In 1997, Walker was awarded a MacArthur Foundation grant, making her the second youngest person to receive it. In 1999, Walker was the first artist to be featured in the U.C.L.A. Hammer Museum’s ongoing Project Series for emerging artists.
She has participated in dozens of solo and group exhibitions, and her work is part of the permanent collections of MoMA, Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum, and San Francisco MoMA.