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Kara Walker’s Beautiful Ugliness: The Abject, Incongruity, and Critical Historiography

  • Journal of History of Modern Art
  • 2017, (42), pp.151-171
  • DOI : 10.17057/kahoma.2017..42.006
  • Publisher : 현대미술사학회
  • Research Area : Arts and Kinesiology > Art > Arts in general > Art History
  • Received : October 22, 2017
  • Accepted : November 28, 2017
  • Published : December 31, 2017

Sunhee Jang 1

1University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This research investigates the rhetorical force of Kara Walker’s visual languages. Because of the sexist and racist idioms represented in her works, Walker’s motives and morals have been attacked since her debut in the mid-1990s. I examine whether Walker’s flat black-cut silhouettes deliver a “negative stereotype” of the African-Americans’ lives in slavery. Then I analyze the spectatorship of Walker’s tableaux focusing on the “interchangeability between the self and the other.” I demonstrate how her skillful use of materials combines with the provocative issues of sex and race to generate the viewers’ masochistic engagement with the presented subjects. I also discuss Walker’s works with Julia Kristeva’s concept of the abject to see how the viewers position themselves in relation to otherness. After then, I discuss how Walker’s works attract the viewers’ marginal experiences that reveal “incongruity.” Her aesthetic strategies show how pre-existing power relationships are reversed in an amoral world. Lastly, I examine how her works locate the viewers in an unfamiliar, different time and space in which the viewers take a “subjunctive role” by virtue of a “melodrama effect” to see ongoing racism. I argue that her works represent a critical historiography where the viewers’ reflexivity and exposure are operated at the same time.

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