Is It Too Much? Kara Walker Drawing That Depicts Sex Between White Man And Black Female Slave Sparks Outrage

January 21, 2013  |  

If you know anything about artist Kara Walker, you know that she pushes the envelope with her contemporary work. I’ve been a fan of her silhouette art for years, which often depicts the complexities of race relations, gender issues and black life in general in very interesting ways. After she was featured in an issue of Vogue explaining her work years ago, I’ve been a follower of it. But a recent creation, depicting the reconstruction era, the K.K.K, and the effects of Jim Crow laws, had people at the Newark Public Library, where it was presented, up in arms. If you can see in the far right corner of the picture, a black woman is drawn giving oral sex to a white man, and this interesting detail had people, employees of the library especially, asking for it to be covered. According to the New Jersey Ledger, the image went up during the holidays. However, those who complained didn’t think the art was appropriate at the time, so after much fuss was made, the library covered up the image due to pressure.

Luckily, after much discussion, staffers and library officials were able to sit down and discuss the piece and agreed to finally let it be uncovered. For those who still aren’t too sure about it, Walker will be invited to the Newark Public Library to discuss her work, the importance of artistic freedom and more, according to the Daily Mail. Clement A. Price, a library trustee and professor at Rutgers, told the NJ-Ledger that despite people’s disapproval of the image, and confusion as to why such a controversial piece of work would be put in the public library, Price says there’s no better place for it:

“The library should be a safe harbor for controversies of all types, and those controversies can be dealt with in the context of what is known about art, about literature, democracy and freedom. There’s no better venue in Newark where such a powerful and potential controversial drawing should be mounted.”

Ironically, many of Walker’s popular silhouettes have been featured in libraries across the country, so it’s very interesting that now her work would be deemed inappropriate for such a place all of a sudden. I think if you understand the point of the whole drawing, you’ll probably see nothing wrong with the sexual imagery in the right corner. However, if that’s the only thing you see when you look at Walker’s drawing, then it’s understandable that you might take issue with it. But that’s a shame, because if you only look at the sexual encounter between these two, you’re missing out on the whole message the picture is trying to get out there: this is the history of us as a people, and while it’s in the past, its ugliness is definitely not forgotten.

After checking out the drawing, which definitely has a lot going on, do you think people overreacted about it? Or does it not really fit in a public library?




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