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Kara Walker on the dark side of imagination

Video by SFMOMA. Artist Kara Walker talks about on the often-violent subject matter of her work, and wonders what her imagination reflects about society as a whole. Created by Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

I guess all of the pieces, and somewhat, the large installations, are sort of disparate narratives or scenes or interactions that maybe are drawn on a very sort of base, you know, nineteenth century stereotypes of black characters, picaninnies or whatever, and then characters that are just sort of loosely designed around that, but then are, you know, clearly my own identity, my own hand, or another sort of, sort of trope But they've all been, you know, reduced to this, this one thing, this black paper My thinking is if a person like me can find themselves making, you know, picaninny negro, you know, minstrel art, meaning for it to be ironic, there's still this kind of, you know, back-handed cycle at play, you know, that sort of undoes even my most sort of progressive ambitions, which is that it can still kind of fall back into familiar terrain My heart and, and my art was filled with a fair amount of, of sort of received violence, you know, some of it real and some of it sort of exaggerated The interesting thing for me in my work is how well, how easy it is, actually, to how easy it is to commit atrocities I mean, that's actually kind of what the work is about It's just like if a girl like me can think this stuff, then what? So I have an uneasy relationship with my own imagination At the same time I'd rather make the work, than hold it all inside and get strange