Thursday, January 13, 2011

Kara Walker (First Thursday Assignment)

I went to the Portland Art Museum and decided to review a piece by Kara Walker titled Burning African Village Play Set With Big House and Lynching, done in 2006 using painted laser cut steel. It consisted of 22 separate, delicately cut steel silhouettes of figures, trees, and buildings. They ranged in size from about 2 to 16 inches tall and about 3 to 12 inches wide. The best way I can describe it is by saying that they almost look like 2 dimensional figures that were cut out of steel and stood upright, transforming them into 3 dimensional figures. The figures are interacting within the foreground, middle ground, and background of the scene, and while there is no main focal point, the piece is intended to be viewed as a panoramic scene that is balanced evenly by the placement of the figures.
As far as the content of the sculpture, it appears as though the people are running around in madness and chaos, due to the burning huts and trees. This sense of chaos is heightened by the fact that they are all running in opposite directions. None of the figures are interacting with one another and they all seem to have their own crisis. There is an angel that appears to be an African woman on top of a tree which gives me the feeling that either people are dying and going to heaven or there is this sense of hope for the people running around and that she is their guardian.
The most striking thing about this piece is the role of the positive and negative space. Not only is it used within each of the individual sculptures but also used to create space and depth within the entire composition. It is also interesting to note the way these solid black figures contrast against the white background. You have to position yourself in a way to be able to see each of the figures fully, without any other obstruction behind. So there is a sense of shifting space and values within the composition because in order to see each one clearly you have to move your eye in and around the entire piece. This simple interaction with the piece gives each figure it's own unique attention and makes it special.

Olivia Serrill

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