The Means to an End by Kara Walker

Artist Kara Walker says, with regard to her art, that “most pieces have to do with exchanges of power, and attempts to steal power away from others.” Her work is layered with images that reference history, literature, culture, and the darker aspects of human behavior. The characters in her room-size tableauxs of black cut-paper silhouettes often examine the underbelly of America’s racial and gender tensions. 

The silhouette, popular in the 19th and 18th century as women’s art, is employed as a narrative device by Kara Walker to give a jolt of graphic recognition to a subject matter which some say would often be too gruesome to tell in any other format. By distilling the images to stark black and white, mostly in silhouette, Walker lulls her viewers into the murky waters of the history of African-Americans on this continent before the full scope of her subject matter is realized. An example of one of these paper cut-out installations is illustrated below.

How does Ms. Walker’s art and specifically the five panel piece at The High, The Means to an End, display power struggles of a physical, emotional, personal, racial, sexual, and historical nature? What about the artist’s story, her technique and process might invite discussion and inspiration for our students?

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