Celebrating Black History Month: Kara Walker


Freedom, A Fable, 1997, Pop-up paper cut-outs, serif type on Classic Crest Cover, leather 9 ½ x 8 ¼ in. (closed), Edition of 4,000, The Peter Norton Family Christmas Project 1997, Gift of Marla Prather

NMWA is highlighting outstanding and influential African American women artists in honor of Black History Month. The first featured artist is Kara Walker, a seasoned and highly respected contemporary artist who lives and works in New York City. Her artwork reflects the struggles of race, gender, sexuality, and identity, set within the historical and folkloric context of the Deep South during the times of slavery and repression. Her work is undeniably synonymous with the silhouette, whether made from vinyl or paper, life-size or miniature, and has received wide acclaim for addressing women’s and race issues.

Kara Walker was born in 1969 to artistic parents in Stockton, California. She pursued art from childhood and received a BFA in painting and printmaking from the Atlanta College of Art and an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Since her career took off in the early 1990s, she has exhibited her work at MOMA, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, as well as internationally. Walker was also featured as part of the “Art 21” series on PBS. In 1997, she received the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship at the age of twenty-seven, making her the youngest female artist to earn the honor.

Walker’s artwork demands attention with its usage of grotesque and fantastical imagery shaped from detailed silhouettes. NMWA has a special edition artist’s book, Freedom, A Fable: A Curious Interpretation of the Wit of a Negress in Troubled Times, with Illustrations, 1997, by Walker. The book chronicles a sea journey of a group of emancipated slaves heading into unknown territory. Negress, the main character of the story and Walker’s alter ego, endures many racial hardships throughout the progression of the story.

Ali Printz is currently an intern in the Library and Research Center at NMWA