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

July 21, 2017
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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 cut-paper 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.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is located at Eighth and F streets N.W., above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station. Museum hours are 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000. Follow the museum on Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, Pinterest, iTunes U and ArtBabble. Website: americanart.si.edu.

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Note to editors: Selected high-resolution images for publicity only may be downloaded from americanart.si.edu/pr. Email americanartpressoffice@si.edu for the password.