Fact Sheet: Kara Walker: Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated)”


Kara Walker: Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated)
Oct. 13 – March 11, 2018


Smithsonian American Art Museum, Eighth and F streets N.W.


For more than two decades, Kara Walker has been making work that weaves together nostalgia for an imagined history, the brutality of slavery and racist stereotypes. She is best-known for her use of the cutpaper silhouette, transforming the genteel 18th-century portrait medium into stark tableaux haunted by violence and subjugation. “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated)” is a series of 15 prints based on the two-volume anthology published in 1866, acquired by the museum in 2008. To create her works, Walker appropriated select illustrations from “Harper’s,” enlarging and overlaying them with dark stenciled figures. Her recast versions disrupt the original scenes and suffuse them with trauma, portraying people and scenarios that have been left out of the official record. This exhibition presents Walker’s prints alongside a selection of the original “Harper’s” images on which they are based. Seen together, the two bodies of work shed light on Walker’s artistic process and her approach to history as an always-fraught, always-contested narrative. The ghostly scenes assert the influence of racial history on contemporary life and create a provocative dialogue between the past and the present. The exhibition is organized by Sarah Newman, The James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art.


“Kara Walker: Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated)” is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Generous support has been provided by Crown Equipment Exhibitions Endowment.

About the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the flagship museum in the United States for American art and craft. It is home to one of the most significant and inclusive collections of American art in the world. The museum’s main building, located at Eighth and G streets N.W., is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The museum’s Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Check online for current hours and admission information. Admission is free. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Website: americanart.si.edu.

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