BOMB THE ROOT: The Kara Walker Interview

In this 2007 interview from the BOMB Digital Archive, controversial artist/MacArthur genius Kara Walker talks about pickaninnies, Topsy, shame and how she’s dealt with the backlash from the black community.

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Untitled, 1996, cut paper, watercolor, and graphite on canvas

Kara Walker is, hands down, one of America’s most well-regarded living artists. She has shown her cut-paper silhouettes and lurid, projected scenes at every major Arts Institution in America—MoMA, the Whitney, the Walker Art Center, SFMoMA, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the name, but a few—and a slew of major arts museums internationally. In 1997 Walker was one of the youngest people ever to be honored with a MacArthur Genius Grant and in 2007, Time Magazine named her one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. All this, and Walker only just turned 40.

But for her many accolades, Walker’s relationship to the African-American community remains tense.

The reason is that Walker’s art focuses—almost exclusively—on America’s complex history of racial and sexual violence. Her famously narrative titles often reference racist slurs such as “Negress,” “picaninny” and “mulatto.” Her tableaus often feature African-American characters in all manner of humiliating positions.

In this BOMB Magazine interview from 2007, Walker speaks candidly about her artistic process and how she has coped with the backlash from black artists such as Howardena Pindel, whose book Kara Walker No / Kara Walker Yes / Kara Walker ? was published this year. You can read the full interview at BOMB Magazine.

—Adda Birnir