I question, what this means for the future of Turkey, is this a good thing? or as a result is the country’s culture going to diminish?
My name is Kalyah Alaina, and I am currently studying abroad in Istanbul, Turkey. I am enrolled in a New Media Art class. One of our assignments is to email an influential contemporary artist who inspires us. I chose Kara Walker for my text-based interview assignment, for many reasons (which are detailed in the interview below), but the main one is Walker’s impressive impact on social consciousness through her artwork. Walker is a contemporary African American artist who explores many themes such as: Gender, Identity, Race, Violence, and Sexuality in her work. She is best known for her room-sized black cut-paper silhouettes.
As a black female living in Turkey I feel a sort of nostalgic catharsis when I view your work. By that I mean, your work intricately visualizes the experience of the black female throughout history, within a room of powerful silhouettes, which is something I obviously have a strong affinity towards. I have likened my experience to Frantz Fanon and how my placement in this city has made me aware of my “body”, more than ever before. This is the same sort of emotion I feel when I view your work. I’m really curious how your experiences throughout your childhood have influenced you to become an artist?
“All my friends were Chinese. Nobody wanted to be white. I didn’t know any white people.” But in Atlanta, I felt like a Martian. There were black people and there were white people.” “You have to keep in mind that my getting bearings means kind of like . . . well, I was kind of like inward and sort of spent a lot of time fantasizing and dreaming things up. And you know, trying to figure out what people were talking about, without really asking questions, because that would get me in trouble.” [as she grew older, began attaining adult life experiences she realized] “I was also interested in the way that objects accrue and then lose history or meaning, in how those objects, or icons, reassert their presence or their strengths,”
What was the catalyst for you creating art centered around this idea of blackness?
“I had begun to think more about the effects of the echoes of history, of sexuality, of race, of simultaneously being seen and not being seen. Why did stereotypes still possess so much power? [And she decided to confront what was at the center of all this for her]: “What was this thing about being a black girl?” [the alleged rape, later revealed as a hoax, of a young black woman, Tawana Brawley, based in Wappingers Falls, N.Y] “That event sort of pushed a silent button. the moment that it was revealed that nothing happened, that there was this fantasy concocted that was so viable . . . I felt it made a victim out of all black women.“
How did this tragic event get translated into silhouettes? what do they represent for you?
“Maybe this is very impersonal of me, but what was it to be in a place, like in the romance novels, where you actually feel like you have this bodice-ripping, provocative figure to sort of justify your being here? Your womanhood, your sexuality or your victimhood — or all of it? The messy jumble of it.” “If my work wasn’t black enough, well, then I’ll make it so black! I’m not dodging it anymore.” [The image that emerged was a large piece — not a painting this time, but a silhouette.] “I’d [been] looking at . . . these silhouette cutouts when I realized that they were cutouts of white people, there was a sort of funny reference to minstrelsy, and was there some sort of desire to be black? What is the desire for the shadow? Is it the dark side of the psyche? It was almost like one of these rolling thoughts that kept growing. Everything kept coming back to the silhouette . . . this idea about this blank space; this idea of sort of being present but removing my presence sort of thing. That’s when I realized I had to take the black paper and take the image away from it.”
Your work “After the Deluge” was a highly controversial response to the events proceeding Hurricane Katrina, what were the images that stirred up such strong, almost ahistorical emotions, about the disaster of 2006?
“I was seeing images that were all too familiar, it was black people In a state of life-or-death desperation, and everything corporeal was coming to the surface–water, excrement and sewage. It was a re-Inscription of all the stereotypes about the black body”
What was the ultimate catalyst for “After the Deluge” and how did this shape the approach to your artwork now and for the future?
“There was one iconic image, a woman feeding a dog as a body just floated by in a swollen river, I got to thinking about what role an artist should play in responding to and shaping the way such a story is told.” “I felt a terrible sense of dread, we just threw up our hands and said ‘not this!’ we’ve seen lynching photographs, we’ve seen people starving, we’ve seen people killing eachother in Haiti, we’ve seen images of black people with no hope attached.”
**Kara Walker: Art that cuts deeply: By, Lynell George. March 9, 2008.
The Eyes of the Storm: By, David D’Acry
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