The Italian Job
The Root's Rebecca Walker hangs out with renowned artist Kara Walker in Turin, Italy, and on Facebook, where they talk about everything from salty dark chocolate to their kids to why Kara's no apologist for anti-black racism.
On our last night, Kara and I trip through a chocolate festival we discover in one of the main palazzos. She turns me on to dark chocolate with sea salt and takes silly pictures of us crossing the street. The air is cold, the night sky is cobalt and we've got that buzz: It's over. The whole thing is a hit -- and now it's time to go home.
I return to Maui and email Kara to gauge her interest in answering a few questions for The Root. Her response? "Torino feels like a dream," she writes. She's already deep into preparing for the next things: two major shows, and a spread for an Italian fashion mag. It's been two days.
"Yes, yes," I write. "Me, too. I've got a book to finish, and some Ph.D. candidates to teach in Sweden next week." She FBs me back. "Oh, OK. Send the questions. I'll take a crack at it."
And so you have it. From Kara, with love:
The Root: Tell me about the inquiry from Vogue Italia.
Kara Walker: Well, the fashion shoot was for La Repubblica -- the Sunday supplement, nothing so real as Vogue. The art director communicated through her minions that she wanted to do a kind of edgy, underground, street-art thing with my "drawings and watercolors," like that makes any kind of sense.
When I think drawings and watercolors, I picture an older gentlewoman on her wood-paneled enclosed porch, contemplating nature. The proposal was to put me in sculpted dresses and jewelry and really have me "working" a mashup of "street art." It was a working-artist, woman-as-power-object thing. I had to say no. It went from funny-ironic to not funny in a single email.
TR: What was the most interesting response to the work in Turin?
KW: The overall reaction surprised me -- they were so enthusiastic. It did feel like the early '90s, though, as if the conversations around multiculturalism had never happened. I felt like I had to keep explaining that my work didn't represent the unified point of view of all black women, and that there may be overlaps, but ultimately my work moves between representations of black history and culture of all stripes -- literary, visual, oral -- and my own more uncontrollable self, the desiring machine.
TR: You repeatedly speak of creating work for a woman of color, but many suggest the opposite and claim your work is an extension of white fascination with black stereotypes. Thoughts?