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Frist Art Museum Presents Major Exhibition “Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick

Kara Walker (American, b. 1969). African/American, edition 22/40, 1998. Linocut, 44 x 62 in. Collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer, 1998.53. © Kara Walker

The Frist Art Museum presents Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick, From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation, an exhibition that offers a broad overview of the artist’s career and explores racial and gender exploitation, abuse, and inequity. Co-organized by Frist Art Museum executive director and CEO Dr. Susan H. Edwards and Nashville-based poet Ciona Rouse, Cut to the Quick will be on view from July 23 through October 10, 2021.

A leading artist of her generation, Kara Walker (b. 1969) works in a diverse range of media, including prints, drawings, paintings, sculpture, film, and the large-scale silhouette cutouts for which she is perhaps most recognized. Her powerful and provocative images employ contradictions to critique the painful legacies of slavery, sexism, violence, imperialism, and other power structures, including those in the history and hierarchies of art and contemporary culture. Through more than 80 works created between 1994 and 2019 from the collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation—premier collectors of works on paper in the United States—Cut to the Quick simultaneously demonstrates Walker’s fluency in medium and power in message.

“Her hard-hitting, unorthodox depictions of taboo subjects expose the raw flesh of generational wounds that have never healed,” writes Dr. Edwards in an introduction to the exhibition. “Intentionally unsentimental and ambiguous, the works can be disturbing yet also humorous, always exploring the irreconcilable inconsistencies that mirror the human condition.”

This is Walker’s first solo exhibition at the Frist Art Museum; her work Camptown Ladies appeared in the Frist’s presentation of 30 Americans in 2013–14. Cut to the Quick includes several of the artist’s most renowned series: The Emancipation Approximation (1999–2000), Testimony (2005), Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated) (2005), An Unpeopled Land in Uncharted Waters (2010), and Porgy & Bess (2013). The earliest work in the exhibition is Topsy (1994), which depicts a figure from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). The most recent work is a bronze replica of Fons Americanus, the 43-foot-tall allegorical monument installed in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2019. Walker’s original and the version coming to the Frist, both based on the Queen Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace, address the interconnectedness of governments and private enterprise in generating American and European wealth through the transatlantic slave trade.

Walker’s process involves extensive research in history, literature, art history, and popular culture. Her groundbreaking room-sized installations of silhouette tableaux were inspired additionally by mythology and fantasy and emerged from her study of colonial portraiture, animated films, and cut-paper silhouettes (a domestic craft popular in nineteenth-century America).

“Controversial at the beginning of her career, Walker’s unwavering vision places her, more than twenty-five years later, at the forefront of centuries-old outcries against injustice, articulated most recently in the international groundswell of support for the Black Lives Matter movement,” writes Dr. Edwards. “Walker’s art demands attention. Can the discomfort, disgust, tension, anxiety, and titillation provoked by these images explode stereotypes?”

In addition to her curatorial responsibilities, co-curator Ciona Rouse composed poems inspired by Walker’s works that will be displayed in the gallery, with QR codes directing guests to audio versions of the poems. “Rouse’s words coalesce genre within genre, expanding our understanding of the visual, verbal, oral, and performative complexity of the artist’s rhetoric,” writes Dr. Edwards. “She gives voice to the absent and makes connections across time and between the viewer and the artist.”

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