After the success of the touring exhibition My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love, Kara Walker's silhouetted cut-out figures are a now-familiar but still pungent presence in contemporary art, reenacting uncomfortable, often violent episodes in American race relations and reprising, in their formal simplicity, the ways in which marginalized identities are reduced and distorted into readily legible, caricatured forms. Walker's art continues, in other words, to pose awkward questions straightforwardly. Her imagery derives from the visual language of the antebellum South and the tradition of the minstrel show, which she directs to more disquieting ends. Where her source material parodied African-American culture with a terrifyingly casual jocularity--permitting white Americans to vicariously transgress their own taboos by depicting social chaos and unbridled sexuality--Walker applies that jocularity to her depictions of violence against African-Americans, lending them a hollow, almost slapstick character that is very much at odds with their original function. This latest book features work from a new series that addresses, among other themes, the atrocities committed against former slaves after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and the Reconstruction program implemented by Congress between 1866 and 1877. These narratives are elaborated into or against geometric scenarios more abstract and compacted than previous sequences by Walker, and with a more extensive use of color.
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