Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Slavery in Silhouette -Kara Walker

Walker has a distinct way to portray her artwork; most of the times she cuts off images (known as silhouettes) in only two colors, black and white, and pastes them in different backgrounds. Walker is inspired by gender, race, sexuality, and ethnicity. She tends to use her African background as an important tool in her art. In this piece, Walker is exploring gender, race, and social status. This image is quite simple but it carries a well-elaborated meaning.

For starters, two colors pop out right away; white and black. The black is being represented by a woman who is carrying white, another woman. The black and white may symbolize various things, for example: ethnicity. The blacks or African-Americans have always been known as "slaves" of those white wealthy people. In this image, that stereotype is being portrayed: a black woman, who is probably working for a wealthy white family. It is known that the slaves had to put up with any type of requirements that came from their bosses; Walker is definitely demonstrating this fact by creating an image where the black woman is lifting the white woman with her own two hands.

Gender plays another important role is this image. The period of time that Walker is trying to portray in this image separates men and women. Around 1600's, wealthy women just dedicated themselves to stay home, chat with their girlfriends, and attend important events with their husbands. Most of them, had power over Africans slaves. In this image, that relationship between the woman boss and her slave is being shown. The black women slave had a more laid back function than the men slave. Women tended to accompany their bosses, helping them with their clothing, cleaning, cooking, and among other chores that women tend to be in charge of. This image represents that relationship: black woman slave serving her wealthy woman boss.

A way to differ social classes is by their clothing. The wealthy women tended to wear large gowns, big hear-dos, and expensive jewelry. As for the low-class women would wear dull dresses, mostly of depressing colors such as brown and gray, and their hair will remain tied up, away from their faces for better performance at their intensive jobs. In this image, the two women are representing what I explained above. The black slave is wearing a black deflated dress, barefoot, and her hair tied up. As for the wealthy woman, she is wearing a large white gown, with big hair-do, leaning back and facing up in the sky as to look like she is in power.

Social status is the main theme of this image. A way to understand what Walker is trying to convey, is by classifying the two women in the image by social status. The two colors, black and white, are self-explanatory and the way they are place in the image (white above black) show the readers to which social status each woman belong to. Starting with the color on top, white, the woman is known to belong to the upper class. By the way she is dressed and her posture. The color below, black, the woman belongs to the low class. Walking bare feet, lifting the “white” woman, and her clothing, are characteristics of a working class woman.

Walker’s intention to convey gender and social status effectively works. Her simple cut-off and paste-in images tell a story with a lot of background history. Walker’s African background influenced her art work; it inspires her to tell others about her culture, the struggles they have and still face. She uses art to narrate a story and introduce others into a world full with culture and knowledge.

Walker always uses the same colors in the art work, black and white. When presenting her art in an art show, she may add colorful images from a projector to add more intensity in her art. This image for example, if Walker would have added more to it, it would lose its meaning and value. Simplicity defines Walker.

Black, white, upper class, lower class. White, black, lower class, upper class. Slavery, African Americans, wealth, rich, money. Power, respect, money. Gender, mistreatment. These are words that are being emphasized by this image. Taking a quick glance at the image, most of these words pop-out. It is a simple and easy image to analyze, historical knowledge must be applied in order to have a better understanding of what Walker is trying to convey.

The images create sad emotions: sad to see how hard slaves had to work, how much they had to take from their owners. It demonstrates how strong Africans were and still are. But to expand this idea a lot more, it demonstrates how WOMEN are warriors. Personally, when I look at this image, it gives me strength. Strength to overcome anything, if these women were capable to lift, to keep up, and to serve their owners, I believe women now are capable of more. This image makes the viewers look back in the past and understand how much women have improved over time. From being slaves to educated professional women. I believe nobody would have been able to achieve this meaning with such of simplicity. Walker has a gift to narrate a meaningful story with less and less objects. As mentioned above, her art defines simplicity. Her lack of colors contributes to her unique style.

In overall, Walker creates a piece of art with a hidden message: a message that provokes and explores gender, race and social status. Starting from the time of slavery up to the time that now women are independent. As a woman, Walker demonstrates to be a strong and self-determinate. As an artist, she is simple and straightforward. Some may believe that this form of art is quite easy but the difficult task here is to create a meaningful piece that will stay in the viewers mind. Walker owns this skill.

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