Kara Walker – Go to Hell or Atlanta, Whichever Comes First at Victoria Miro
The first of this year’s autumn exhibitions at the Victoria Miro gallery, Go to Hell or Atlanta, Whichever Comes First is acclaimed American artist Kara Walker’s exploration on racism and its lasting symbols that can still be found in the Deep South of America.
When she was 13, Kara’s family moved from California to Atlanta – a simple step that has had a great impact on her work as a whole, and especially so in her latest solo exhibition. Drawing from the region’s historical heritage, a place whose past is famously connected with the Ku Klux Klan and segregation, she has created a show that pokes fun of their symbols, provoking and shocking the viewer with explicit imagery. The body of work on show is completely new as Walker created it especially for Victoria Miro with the gallery’s spaces in mind. As a result the two spacious floors are taken over by some large-scale photographic pieces and cut-paper installations. Naturally, Walker’s signature black-paper silhouette figures set against a white wall make an appearance here in The Jubilant Martyrs of Obsolescence and Ruin – an impressive piece taking up the space of the whole wall, this is not the type of wallpaper that aims to prettily decorate the room, instead dominated by hangings and killings.
Silhouettes are a major part of Walker’s other large-scale works as well. It is in the midst of dark watercolour on paper where figures are found in most provoking positions: black women sexually exploited by white men, the violent culture of the Deep South unceremoniously paraded for all to see. So, even though racism and racial relations are the main theme of the exhibition, it quickly becomes evident that gender is also strongly reflected on as the main struggle. Underlined throughout most of the works is the brutal oppression and violence towards women of colour through the dark ages of colonialism.
Apart from that, the exhibition’s centrepiece that brings the whole narrative together is a large-scale print of the Stone Mountain: the spiritual home of the Ku Klux Klan now hosting a bas-relief carving of Confederate generals on horseback. That haunting image puts the whole exhibition into a more specific context, giving a new meaning to each image and showing in plain sight exactly what Walker aims to ridicule. A great exhibition that put a shameful part of human history within the powerful world of parody, this is a show out to provoke.
Photo: Dave Sweeney
Kara Walker: Go to Hell or Atlanta, Whichever Comes First is at Victoria Miro from 1st October until 7th November 2015, for further information visit here.