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Kara Walker
Kara Walker© Ari Marcopoulos

Artist Kara Walker to debut major new installation at London’s Tate Modern

The mixed-media creative is best known for her black cut-paper silhouettes which often reference the history of slavery

The 2019 Hyundai Commission for the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall has been announced as American artist Kara Walker. The artist is renowned for her study of social issues like race, gender, sexuality, and violence through a mixed media lens of sculptural installations, prints, shadow puppets, and drawings. Her most well-known works are black paper silhouettes that explore the history of slavery from America’s Antebellum South region. Walker’s site-specific commission for the Turbine Hall will run from 2 October 2019 to 5 April 2020.

The artist’s first installation was her 2014, 10 metre high, 23 metre long “A Subtlety” sculpture that took over Brooklyn’s derelict Domino Sugar Refinery and addressed the history of sugar production. The massive sugar coated sphynx paid homage to the unpaid and overworked artisans of America’s sugar canes. From here, Walker went on to show at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, and most recently she created a 2017 musical installation “The Katastwóf Karavan” which explored the African-American experience through song.

The Tate Modern prides their 2019 selection on Walker’s deep and courageous commitment to social and political progression.“Kara Walker fearlessly tackles some of the most complex issues we face today,” explains Frances Morris, Director of Tate Modern. “Her work addresses history and identity with a powerful directness, but also with great understanding, nuance and wit. Seeing her respond to the industrial scale of the Turbine Hall – and the wider context of London and British history – is a hugely exciting proposition.”

Walker follows on from Turbine Halls 2018 commission, Cuban artist and activist Tania Bruguera, whose takeover was a powerful reminder of the strength in human unity. Bruguera’s installation “10,148,451” (2018) consumed the space with a large-heat sensitive floor which absorbed the audience’s collective body heat to reveal a hidden portrait of Yousef, a young man who left Syria to come to London. The room was also filled with an organic compound in the air which induced tears, invoking what Bruguera describes as forced empathy. The show made viewers cry and was a bold statement on the importance of collective action in face of the global refugee crisis.

Since opening in 2000, the Hyundai Commission has hosted some of the gallery’s most innovative, thought-provoking shows, notably including Olafur Eliasson’s “The Weather Project” (2003), which dominated the space with realistic depictions of the sun and sky to interrogate climate change. Louise Bourgeois was the first to take over space in 2000 with her “I Do, I Undo, and I Redo” installation which explored emotional development in relation to motherhood.

Kara Walker’s Hyundai Commission will be on display at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall from 2 October 2019 to 5 April 2020