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Kara Walker is an american artist born in 1969 who is best known for creating large scale silhouettes from black paper that address the issues of racial and gender stereotyping in American Culture, the themes in her work include sexuality, power, repression, race and history. I came across her work many years ago and was reminded of it during this project, especially her work referencing sexism and gender inequality.

“As black paper cut outs adhered directly to the white walls of the gallery, Walker’s work is put forth in no uncertain terms. Her world is quite frankly black and white. In fact, it is shameless. The works’ refusal to acknowledge shame when dealing with issues of race and desire set within the context of slavery, allows Walker to challenge, indeed taunt, our individual and collective historical imaginations.” —Hamza Walker3

I’ve been looking at her silhouettes because i am considering how and if i should represent physical characters in the second half of my FMP, and if so do they require set features or will an outline or other simple representation aid my aim of promoting untraditional views of femininity?

I am aiming to create an interpretation of a once traditional version of feminitiy- represented in the original 12 dancing princesses, that is very different, one that does not show the princesses relying on male characters and changing their story not to make it “man hating” as feminism has wrongly been accused of, but fair and equal and giving them the same rights of a man in that time period.

Whilst researching Kara Walker on her foundations website i came across a sentence that links our methods and ideas quite well : “She mentions being drawn to early American silhouettes as she explored an interest in kitsch.1″   

The silhouttes created by Kara featuring women :

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upon observing the shapes in the silhouettes featuring women, i notice that their figures are still very sexualised and quite unrealistic, and if i do create characters in my response to the narrative i’d like to avoid that because thanks to Disney “princesses” and other childrens media like Barbie there is already a very rigid view of the “princess body type” and i’d like to display a less sexualised view of the characters in the 12 dancing princesses.

History of Silhouettes:

The history of paper-cut portraits dates back to the court of Catherine de Medici in the late 16th century in France. This decorative practice, which grew increasingly popular during the second half of the 18th-century, was named for Etienne de Silhouette (1709-1767), Louis XV’s widely unliked French finance minister who cut black paper portraits as a hobby. Beginning in the 1700s, silhouette-cutting gained credence as art form in the United States because of its popularity among the aristocracy and haute bourgeoisie. However, by the mid-1800s, “shadow portraits” had lost most of their prestige. Being deemed a craft rather than an art form, secured this portriature technique a place at carnivals and in classrooms devoted to the training of “good ladies.” During the early 20th-century, silhouettes gained favor as sentimental keepsakes and souvenirs at fairs.

To create a silhouette, Walker draws her images with a greasy white pencil or soft pastel crayon on large pieces of black paper, which she then cuts with an X-ACTO knife. As she composes her images, she thinks in reverse, in a way, because she needs to flip the silhouettes over after she cuts them. The images are then adhered to paper, canvas, wood, or directly to the gallery wall with wax.

“I was really searching for a format to sort of encapsulate, to simplify complicated things…And some of it spoke to me as: ‘it’s a medium…historically, it’s a craft…and it’s very middle-class.’ It spoke to me in the same way that the minstrel show does…it’s middle class white people rendering themselves black, making themselves somewhat invisible, or taking on an alternate identity because of the anonymity … and because the shadow also speaks about so much of our psyche. You can play out different roles when you’re rendered black, or halfway invisible.” 3
How she relates to my FMP:
I’ve been looking at Kara because she uses characters to challenge social conventions and issues, and i will be using the characters of the 12 dancing princesses to challenge traditional views of femininity through retelling and reimagining of a classic Grimm Story. The current representations of this story are few, the leading one being the “Barbie” version which is horrifically tacky and lacking in substance, just 12 identical princesses with tiny waists who love shoes – very shallow.  I’d like to create something that challenges the common gender stereotypes such as girls being drawn to pink as opposed to blue, therefore i am going to use gender neutral shades of black and white with some pops of color. I am also challenging the fundamental male presence in this story by removing the 12 princes and showing the princesses having a good time in the company of women.  I will represent the women in this story in a way this is not overtly sexualised as well.
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