Kara Walker Artist Book on Display at SLAM

Washington University Libraries is always eager to share some of the more extraordinary pieces in our collection with the wider St. Louis community. It is therefore with great enthusiasm that we announce that one of our artist books, Freedom: A Fable by artist Kara Walker will be on display at the St. Louis Art Museum as part of their exhibition, “Graphic Revolution: American Prints 1960 to Now.” The exhibit will be held in the museum’s East Building from November 11th through February 3rd.

A page from Kara Walker’s Freedom: A Fable.

About Kara Walker

Kara Walker is a contemporary artist best-known for her large-scale murals featuring black paper silhouettes of antebellum figures. The scenes she creates often depict violence and conflict and explore the complicated intersection between race, gender, and sexuality in America. Walker has said of her designs, “The silhouette lends itself to avoidance of the subject—of not being able to look at it directly—yet there it is, all the time, staring you in the face” (Walker).

Close-up of a silhouetted figure from Kara Walker’s Freedom: A Fable.

Walker’s debut exhibition in 1994, Gone, An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart, enjoyed an enthusiastic critical reception, and in 1997 she became the second-youngest recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Grant.  That same year, the Peter Norton family commissioned her to produce an artist book for their Peter Norton Christmas Project. The result of this commission is the pop-up artist book Freedom, A Fable.

A page from Kara Walker’s Freedom: A Fable.

The Continued Legacy of Racism in Freedom

Freedom, A Fable bears the alternative subtitle A Curious Interpretation of the Wit of a Negress in Troubled Times.” In the book, Walker uses her signature silhouettes to tell the story of a female slave who has just been emancipated but finds freedom to not be what she imagined it to be. The short story shares the woman’s struggle to be heard and even survive in a world full of discrimination and violence. The book is bound in leather, with paper popups engineered by David Eisen.

A page from Kara Walker’s Freedom: A Fable. A reader can pull a tab on the side of the page to make the child she is birthing emerge.

More About the Peter Norton Christmas Project

Peter Norton is an art collector and software entrepreneur who annually commissions an artist to create a sculptural object or book that he sends out in lieu of a Christmas card.  These objects are generally made in runs of 2,500-5,000 unnumbered copies. Special Collections’ copy of the Walker book comes from the collection of the Sam Fox School’s Professor Buzz Spector, who is himself a book artist.

A silhouette from Kara Walker’s Freedom: A Fable.

Further Reading

To read about some of the other artist books Washington University Libraries have in their collections, please check out our previous blog post on Contemporary Female Book Artists.

Sources:

Kino, Carol. “Yes, Virginia, There is a Resale Market.” The New York Times, 18 Dec 2005.

Walker, Kara. “The Melodrama of ‘Gone with the Wind.’” Art 21, Sept 2003. https://art21.org/read/kara-walker-the-melodrama-of-gone-with-the-wind/

About the author

Rose is a PhD candidate in English and American Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. When she is not working on her dissertation on post-1945 asylum novels or blogging about the amazing materials in Special Collections, she fills much of her time reading, writing, gardening, and wrestling.