Kara Walker - Camden Art Centre

American artist Kara Walker filled all three gallery spaces at Camden Art Centre over the autumn months.

Renouncing the sensitivity that often shrouds the subject, Walker’s work critically and unapologetically interrogated underlying racial and gender tensions. Through characters drawn from American popular literature, culture and history, she exposed the myths that lie beneath cultural archetypes and the darker aspects of human behaviour.

Walker’s work reflected her research into the white supremacist movement and gun culture in the US. Peopled with subjects from both past and contemporary history, the work weaves together historical documents of slavery with more recent racial issues.

The exhibition brought together several important bodies of recent work. Dust Jackets for the Niggerati is a series of large graphite drawings, conceived as book covers for unwritten essays and works of fiction, which investigates pivotal transitions in black American history and the missing narratives of the black migration. Shown alongside a video installation of her shadow play Fall Frum Grace- Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale and intricately cut silhouette installations, the ‘wall samplers’, the exhibition addresses highly-charged subjects of repression, discrimination and sexual violence.

Connecting all of the work is an examination of power, racial myths and stereotypes. Using graphically simple and traditional media, Walker articulates suffering and violence within American history that continues to resonate in society today.

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Make & Do

Sunday 13 October – Sunday 5 January (Sundays) 2.00 – 4.30pm
Artists Jay Bernard, Evan Ifekoya and Raju Sachi Singh led our Sunday workshops for families while the Kara Walker exhibition was on in the galleries.

Families were invited to drop in to the Drawing Studio to make silhouettes, puppets and masks. Together gave these creations personalities and acted out stories in front of projected scenes.

Taking inspiration from the way Kara Walker works, through these activities we asked big questions and made big statements about the world we live in.

Screening: Uncle Tom’s Cabin Triple Bill

Wednesday 23 October, 7.00 – 9.00pm
Including Kara Walker’s Six Miles from Springfield on the Franklin Road, a PBS documentary on the writing of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the 1927 film adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic novel. Selected by Kara Walker.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Published in 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an anti-slavery novel and was the best-selling novel of the 19th century. The book and the plays it inspired helped popularise a number of stereotypes about black people, including the affectionate, dark-skinned “mammy”; the “pickaninny” stereotype of black children; and the “Uncle Tom”, or dutiful, long-suffering servant faithful to his white master or mistress.

Screening: Sounder

Sunday 27 October, 3.00 – 5.00pm
Sounder (dir. Martin Ritt, 1972)
Martin Ritt’s adaptation of William H. Armstrong’s novel follows a a black family struggling through life in depression-era Louisiana.

Selected by Kara Walker to accompany her exhibition.

Screening: The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

Wednesday 13 November, 7.00 – 9.00pm
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (dir. John Korty, 1974)
A story about the American experience told by a former Louisiana slave, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman spans over 100 years of southern history. Selected by Kara Walker to accompany her exhibition.

Panel Discussion: Reinventing Identity and the Historical Narrative

Wednesday 20 November, 7.00 – 8.30pm
Kara Walker’s work draws on material from sources ranging across literature, folk tradition, history and film to examine and reclaim the narrative of Black experience in America and the wider world. This discussion addressed some of these strategies and considers Walker’s work within a European context. Chaired by Achim Borchardt-Hume with Dr Deirdre Osborne and David Dibosa.

Screening: To Sleep with Anger

Wednesday 27 November, 7.00 – 8.30pm
To Sleep with Anger (dir. Charles Burnett, 1990)
Selected by Kara Walker to accompany the exhibition.

Screening: Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One

Sunday 1 December, 3.00 – 5.00pm
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (dir. William Greaves, 1968)
Selected by Kara Walker to accompany her exhibition.

Screening: Borderline

Wednesday 4 December, 7.00 – 9.00pm
Borderline (dir. Kenneth MacPherson, 1930)

Influenced by the psychological realism of Pabst and Eisenstein’s montage, Borderline is a closely woven narrative of racial and sexual tension, moving between the boundaries of black and white, male and female and the conscious and the unconscious. Screened to coincide with Kara Walker’s exhibition and Mad, Bad and Sad at the neighbouring Freud Museum.

The film was introduced by Karen Alexandre, Senior Tutor in Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art.

Screening: Barby Asante - Bamboo Memories

Wednesday 18 December, 7.00 – 8.00pm
Bamboo Memories 
(dir. Barby Asante. 2 channel, 8 mins 56 secs)

Barby Asante’s short film Bamboo Memories looks back on the legendary social club in Bristol which encouraged interaction between communities at a time when racial prejudices prevented the employment and social integration of the non-white community. Screened to accompany the Kara Walker exhibitions.

Commissioned by Picture This.

Make & Do

Sunday 13 July – Sunday 28 September (Sundays), 2.00 – 4.30pm
Every Sunday while the exhibitions are on, families with children dropped in for practical and creative activities based around the shows. Led by artist Rebecca Snow.

Get the Message Exhibition

Tuesday 15 – Sunday 20 July
Artists’ Studio
Throughout the year, students taking place in Get the Message, from Village School, Brent, The Bridge School, Islington and Swiss Cottage School, Camden looked at the theme of ‘the stage’ as a site for exploration. This exhibition presented the work they produced with artists Emma McGarry and Adam Walker and marks the end of a two year mentoring programme for artists. A series of public events accompanied the exhibition.

From 17 – 20 July, visitors could take an enhanced 45 minute audio tour of the Get the Message exhibition, suitable for blind and partially-sighted audiences. Audio guides and headphones were available for free from the Bookshop.

Get the Message was a collaborative project between young people with learning disabilities, teachers and artists. The project aimed to challenge perceptions of disability as a limitation through collaborative activities which champion all forms of communication and self expression. Through encounters with contemporary art practice both in galleries and working with artists, Get the Message offered innovative approaches to working with young people with profound and multiple learning disabilities.