The black cut-outs of Kara Walker’s life-size art installation, at first glance, look like a group of sweet, frolicking children at play.
On closer inspection, you see the chilling depiction of a lynch mob running after an African-American youth. The macabre subject of Virginia’s Lynch Mob is arresting, thought-provoking, and at times terrifying. Such is the impact of Walker’s controversial art that centers on themes of racism, slavery, sexism and violence, now on display at Montclair Art Museum.
Born in Northern California in the late 60s, Walker was suddenly smacked with predjudice and racial stereotyping when her family moved to Georgia in her teens. Walker delved into Civil War history and the antebellum South, which along with her personal experiences resonates within all her work. The silhouettes are a foil for Walker’s soul-stirring historical narrative which can be ugly and brutal, forcing the observer to reckon with the truth. Curator Gail Stavitsky and museum director Lora Urbanelli recognizing this is not art for the faint of heart, placed several parental advisories in and outside the exhibition space. Museum staff also consulted with members of Montclair’s African-American community over the past six months in preparation for the exhibitiom.
Surrounding the 40-foot concave wall centerpiece, built for the exhibition, are 24 works on display, presenting a sampling of the different media Walker works in — collage, paint, and even film. Of note, the artist produced a series of enlarged lithographs selected from Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated)(2005) on which she adds her signature black cut-out peering eerily on the past.
A black and white screenprint entitled Emancipation Approximation (scene #18) depicts two women of equal size, who are not equal. A white female figure wears a dress reminiscent of a bale of cotton, which rests on the head of a black female figure.
The intensity of the show, at times, both haunting and disturbing, bring the viewer to reflect on the very personal message of the artist, which is exactly what she would want.
“The work is difficult because the history is hard. But don’t you want to see it?” – Kara Walker
Virginia’s Lynch Mob and Other Works
September 15, 2018 – January 6, 2019
Montclair Art Museum
3 South Mountain Ave,