Kara Walker Exhibition opens July 23 at the Frist Art Museum

Kara Walker. The Emancipation Approximation (Scene #24), edition 720, 1999–2000. Screenprint, 44 x 34 in. Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation, 2001.20x. © Kara Walker

The Frist Art Museum presents Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick, an exhibition offering a broad overview of the artist’s career exploring racial and gender exploitation, abuse, and inequity. Co-organized by Frist Art Museum executive director and CEO Dr. Susan H. Edwards and Nashville-based poet Ciona Rouse, Cut to the Quick will be on view in the Frist’s Upper-Level Galleries from July 23 through October 10, 2021.

A leading artist of her generation, Kara Walker (b. 1969) works in a diverse range of media, including prints, drawings, paintings, sculpture, film, and the large-scale silhouette cutouts for which she is best known. Her powerful and provocative images employ contradictions to critique the painful legacies of slavery, sexism, violence, imperialism, and other power structures, including those in the history and hierarchies of art and contemporary culture.

More than 80 works created between 1994 and 2019 from the collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation — premier collectors of works on paper in the United States — in Cut to the Quick simultaneously demonstrate Walker’s fluency in medium and power in message.

“Her hard-hitting, unorthodox depictions of taboo subjects expose the raw flesh of generational wounds that have never healed,” writes Dr. Edwards in an introduction to the exhibition. “Intentionally unsentimental and ambiguous, the works can be disturbing yet also humorous, always exploring the irreconcilable inconsistencies that mirror the human condition.”

This is Walker’s first solo exhibition at the Frist Art Museum. Her work Camptown Ladies appeared in the Frist’s presentation of 30 Americans in 2013–14. Cut to the Quick includes several of her most renowned series: The Emancipation Approximation (1999–2000), Testimony (2005), Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated) (2005), An Unpeopled Land in Uncharted Waters (2010), and Porgy & Bess (2013). The earliest work here is Topsy (1994), depicting a figure from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). The most recent work, a bronze replica of Fons Americanus, addresses the interconnectedness of governments and private enterprise in generating American and European wealth through the transatlantic slave trade.

Kara Walker. Boo-hoo (for Parkett no. 59), edition PP 56, 2000. Linocut, 40 x 20 12 in. Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation, 2003.13. © Kara Walker

Walker’s process involves extensive research in history, literature, art history, and popular culture. Her groundbreaking room-sized installations of silhouette tableaux were inspired additionally by mythology and fantasy and emerged from her study of colonial portraiture, animated films, and cut-paper silhouettes (a domestic craft popular in nineteenth-century America).

“Controversial at the beginning of her career, Walker’s unwavering vision places her, more than twenty-five years later, at the forefront of centuries-old outcries against injustice, articulated most recently in the international groundswell of support for the Black Lives Matter movement,” writes Dr. Edwards. “Walker’s art demands attention. Can the discomfort, disgust, tension, anxiety, and titillation provoked by these images explode stereotypes?”

Co-curator Ciona Rouse composed poems inspired by Walker’s works that will be displayed in the gallery, with QR codes directing guests to audio versions of the poems.

“Rouse’s words coalesce genre within genre, expanding our understanding of the visual, verbal, oral, and performative complexity of the artist’s rhetoric,” writes Dr. Edwards. “She gives voice to the absent and makes connections across time and between the viewer and the artist.”

Saturday, July 24 Performance inspired by Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick Choreographed and danced by Jade Treadwell. Two shows, at 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. in the Frist Art Museum Auditorium. Free; first come, first seated. Space is limited. This premiere of a new dance will explore the complex themes addressed in Walker’s work through rhythmic tap and contemporary modern dance movement.

Saturday, August 21   Sensory Dreams, Sated: A tasting inspired by Kara Walker presented by Chef Keshia of Sip N Bite is from 3:00–5:00 p.m. in the Frist Art Museum Auditorium. $50 members; $60 not-yet-members (gallery admission, parking validation, and tasting included). Space is limited. Registration required on the Frist website.

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