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600 unseen drawings, collages, studies, automatic writings - even dream journals - from Kara Walker’s personal archives are on show in the Neubau of Kunstmuseum Basel until 19 September. The American artist's first extensive solo exhibition in Switzerland, “A Black Hole is Everything A Star Longs To Be”, aims to cast a new light into Walker's practice. An artist whose work resonates with some of the most pressing issues of today: racism, identity, violence, gender and sexuality, the political situation in the US and also to the Black Lives Matter movement.

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The curator of the exhibition Anita Haldemann, since 2017, invited Kara Walker to focus on her drawings - which became orphans in her studio over the years  - rather than her notorious and controversial cutouts. Walker liked the idea to show her unexplored work in a museum that has a very important Kupferstichkabinett, one of the oldest public collections of Western prints and drawings. She has hidden these drawings - realized between 1993 and 2020 - from the public, and from herself, because they were either too intimate and too painful or too provocative. They didn’t fit into a proper art exhibition. But now, a visual and narrative component - finally legitimate and accessible - is added to her calligraphic, rudimentary experiments (like I Am Not My Negro, 2020) flooding and colonizing the white museum’s walls.

 

Kara Walker, Barack Obama as Othello "The Moor" With the Severed Head of Iago in a New and Revised Ending by Kara E. Walker (2019) © The Joyner Guiffrida Collection, San Francisco USA, © Kara Walker.

 

A sort of “excavation” in Walker’s biography and artistic past. We are confronted emotionally, psychologically and politically because “drawing on paper is a revealing, kind of vulnerable process”, as explained by painter, printmaker, installation artist, filmmaker and professor Kara Walker. As a way to escape the change of Western painting, to understand the roots of an African-American artist, to explore American history, to make paintings, drawing represents a point of origin. The foundation of Kara Walker’s creative practice. In fact, the way she practices drawing is very “manic” with a cartoony feel. From intimate and sketch-like, small, almost unfinished, quickly done formats - especially since, from a distance, they imitate painting - to monumental works. Many of her works on paper are executed with a brush, which gives them a flowing and open dynamic.  

 

Kara Walker, Untitled (1996-97) © Private archive Kara Walker.

 

The exhibition will feature a number of new works such as her iconoclast, allegorical cycle of portraits of former president Barack Obama, such Barack Obama as Othello "The Moor" With the Severed Head of Iago in a New and Revised Ending by Kara E. Walker (2019). Picking up the global context of Covid, the suite of 38 drawings entitled The Gross Clinician Presents: Pater Gravidam (2018) - purchased in  2019 by the Kunstmuseum Basel - is inspired not only by Old Master drawing, from Rembrandt, Goya, and Thomas Eakins, but also by the exploitation of African-American bodies by medical schools. 

 

Kara Walker, I Am Not My Negro, 2020, Charcoal and pastel on paper, © Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland, © Kara Walker.

 

“The medium of drawing transforms a blank page into a site of reflection”, Walker explains, scrutinizing her own identity as an African-American artist, a woman and a mother. A stream of consciousness loud and playful and irreverent and excessive which becomes extremely liberating, contrary to grand painting. 

 A key part of that the process is the stunning catalogue by JRP Edition (2020), published with Kunstmuseum Basel, which accompanies Kara Walker touring exhibition.

 

Detail of Kara Walker The Gross Clinician Presents: Pater Gravidam, 2018, graphite, sumi ink, gofun, and gouache on paper, 38 drawings, dimension vary, © Kara Walker, Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.

 

Kara Walker: A Shocking Declaration of Independence (2018) Courtesy der Künstlerin.

 

Cover image: Kara Walker - Untitled, 2016. Ink on paper, 26 x 18,1 cm. © Kara Walker

Written by Petra Chiodi

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