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Kara Walker is an African-American artist who rose to fame for her use of large paper silhouettes to explore social issues surrounding gender, race and black history.
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Kara Walker was born in 1969 in Stockton, California. At the Rhode Island School of Design, Walker began working in the silhouette form. In 1994, her work appeared in a new-talent show at the Drawing Center in New York and she became an instant hit. In 1997, she received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "genius grant." Since then, Walker's work has been exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide.
"I don't know how much I believe in redemptive stories, even though people want them and strive for them."
Kara Walker was born in Stockton, California, on November 26, 1969. Raised by a father who worked as a painter, Walker knew by age 3 that she wanted to become an artist as well.
Initially dreaming of creating fine art, Walker's ambitions changed as she grew older; she began experimenting with various avant-garde styles, creating pieces in order to tell a story or make a statement rather than achieve beauty or perfection. "I guess there was a little bit of a slight rebellion, maybe a little bit of a renegade desire that made me realize at some point in my adolescence that I really liked pictures that told stories of things—genre paintings, historical paintings—the sort of derivatives we get in contemporary society," Walker stated in 1999, during an interview with New York's Museum of Modern Art.
At a young age, Walker moved with her family to Atlanta, Georgia, where she would spend the rest of her childhood and later attend the Atlanta College of Art. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting and printmaking from the school in 1991. Three years later, in 1994, she received a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting and printmaking from the Rhode Island School of Design, located in Providence.
The same year that she graduated from RISD, Walker debuted a mural at the Drawing Center in New York City, entitled "Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart." It wasn't just the theme of the piece that caught the attention of critics, but its form: black-paper silhouette figures against a white wall.
The mural launched Walker's career, also making her one of the leading artistic voices on the subject of race and racism. Over the course of her impressive career, Walker has had solo exhibitions at a range of institutions, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Tate Liverpool in Liverpool, Merseyside, England; the Metropolitan Museum of Art of in New York; and the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In 2007, TIME magazine named Walker to it's prestigious "TIME 100" list. According to one TIME magazine article: "[Walker] raucously engages both the broad sweep of the big picture and the eloquence of the telling detail. She plays with stereotypes, turning them upside down, spread-eagle and inside out. She revels in cruelty and laughter. Platitudes sicken her. She is brave. Her silhouettes throw themselves against the wall and don't blink."
In addition to being well-received, however, Walker's work has stirred controversy among some.
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They are the famous African-American artists who have exquisitely shared portrayals of historic events and individuals, cultural perspectives, and the experiences and struggles of minorities through their artwork. Examine our list of pivotal black artists, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, who helped to bring African-American and Latino experiences into the elite art world through his graffiti works; Augusta Savage, a sculptor and leading artist of the Harlem Renaissance, who experienced racial discrimination by an art program's selection committee; and Kara Walker, who has used paper silhouettes to depict race and gender relations.
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