Kara Walker's Emancipating the Past at Massachusetts the University Museum of Contemporary Art

Kara Walker at Amherst

In Art by Mikaela Ehly

Kate Stoppiello of The Massachusetts Daily Collegian writes that Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker’s Tales of Slavery and Power, “explores the disturbing history of slavery through large-scale silhouette installations.” The exhibition, which opened Wednesday at the University Museum of Contemporary Art, was followed by a reception attended by UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy as well as the collector of the art, Jordan Schnitzer, who both spoke about the pieces.

“We all need something uplifting right now,” said Subbaswamy, referring to the exhibit at the reception. While Walker’s artwork illuminates the insidious nature of slavery, it allows for spectators to become enlightened on the topic of race.

Walker frequently uses racial stereotype satire within her work to reveal the traumatic history of race relations in America. Much of the art depicts slaves within various narratives throughout history, such as lynchings and events during the Civil War.

Walker also used pictures from a publication that was circulated during the years following the Civil War titled, “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War,” as a background for many of her silhouettes.

Several of Walker’s pieces allude to the memoirs of Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass.

Emily Cooper, an art history and French double major,Walke said that Walker’s artwork made her “wonder what is the truth of art because not all of it is hers,” referring to the pieces that use pictures of publications as backgrounds. John Brigham, a political science professor at UMass reflected on the artwork and said “black history is significant for UMass.”

This exhibit shines a light on the dark history of slavery and teaches about it in a way that students found captivating and shocking.

At the end of the reception, Schnitzer said that it is important for Americans to “deal with the issues of racial inequality and gender inequality.”

Schnitzer referred to Walker as “an artist of our time” and commended her ability to take the usage of silhouettes in art to a whole new level.

Schnitzer emphasized that Walker’s work is highly relevant during these times, and that it is important to honor our community by sharing this artwork with our friends, classmates and families.

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