The first of two exhibitions at the gallery in autumn 2015 by the celebrated American artist Kara Walker.
Often provocative and humorous, Kara Walker's work explores the tensions and power plays of racial and gender relations. Walker's work engages with historical narratives and the ways in which these stories have been suppressed, distorted and falsified. This exhibition extends her exploration of the brutalising histories of colonialism and slavery, and the political and psychological consequences that accompanies identity formation in contexts of oppression and violence.
Drawing from art historical and literary sources, Walker creates and deconstructs scenarios that expose biases and prejudices, exploring the power struggles underlying personal and political relationships. Her work proposes alternative mythologies, and new ways of engaging with traumatic historical material. Walker uses historical decorative styles including the silhouette to create complex and sophisticated narratives, emphasising and undermining the ways in which images and narratives can be subject to stereotyping.
For her first exhibition with Victoria Miro, Walker has produced a new body of work made with the gallery’s unique spaces in mind. In Go to Hell or Atlanta, Whichever Comes First Walker has drawn inspiration from the southern American city where she spent her teenage years. The centrepiece of the exhibition is a cut paper installation and large scale photographic wallpaper piece, the latter made in collaboration with photographer and filmmaker Ari Marcopoulos. These works reference Stone Mountain, a park on the outskirts of Atlanta featuring the world’s largest exposed granite monolith, the surface of which features a partially completed bas-relief carving of Confederate generals on horseback.
The mountain and the park that bears its name have had a chequered history. In 1915 Stone Mountain was declared the spiritual home of the Ku Klux Klan; more recently it has become a theme park with a wild west train ride and popular laser shows. Walker’s work draws on the layered histories and associations
of the site.
The Atlanta works are complemented by Four Idioms on Negro Art, which addresses forms of representation that have a stereotypical association with ‘low’ art: Folk Art, Graffiti and Primitivism. Each monumental work shows the artist taking on the attributes of a specific visual language, simultaneously paying homage to and satirising the motifs and style of the given forms.
In a sketch outlining her conception of this body of work, Walker sets up the Idioms in contradiction to Four Desires: Conceptual Art Practice, Fine Art, Technical Mastery and Mind Boggling Scale, and suggests a parodic dichotomy between the form and intention of art based on gender, class,
education and skill.
A publication accompanies the exhibition featuring a conversation between Kara Walker and Ari Marcopoulos and a text by James Hannaham.
In November 2015, Victoria Miro Mayfair presents a selection of preparatory drawings, sketches and models related to the production of Vincenzo Bellini’s two-act opera Norma that Kara Walker directed and art directed for Teatro La Fenice. This production, staged for six performances between May and June 2015, was a special project commissioned by Okwui Enwezor to coincide with the 56th Venice Biennale. The exhibition is accompanied by a publication with texts by the artist and by Hilton Als.