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May 10, 2017

Artist Kara Walker’s Exhibition Opens at the University Museum of Contemporary Art

Christina Yacono/Collegian

Christina Yacono/Collegian

The University Museum of Contemporary Art opened an exhibit, “Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker’s Tales of Slavery and Power” on Wednesday, which explores the disturbing history of slavery through large-scale silhouette installations. At the reception, UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and the collector of the art, Jordan Schnitzer, spoke about the pieces.

Walker is one of the most successful and controversial artists working today. She is known for her elegant use of black and white silhouettes to depict the legacy of slavery in all races, in addition to examining issues of gender, sexuality and power.

“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.

Kate Stoppiello can be reached at

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