Kara Walker provides visual commentary on historic Civil War images

Image from Kara Harper's Pictorial History of the Civil War. (Image provided)


The Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) has installed all 15 prints from the 2005 series Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated) by distinguished American artist Kara Walker. The portfolio, recently acquired in its entirety by TMA, features the artist’s signature silhouette figures in silkscreen layered over enlarged wood engravings of U.S. Civil War scenes taken from Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War, first published in 1866. By uniting her contemporary re-imagining of events with the historical record, Walker creates a powerful visual statement that complicates and challenges conventional accounts of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery.

For over two decades Walker has been renowned for her meaningful and provocative engagement with issues of race, gender and sexuality and is one of the most successful and influential artists working today.

“The Toledo Museum of Art believed it was important to acquire this particular series by Kara Walker, as it represents the first time that she uses the type of visual culture that has inspired her work as the physical, material support for it,” said Museum Director Brian Kennedy. “The merging of historical and contemporary imagery in this project brings her remarkable vision full circle.”

Kara Walker, Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated), which will be on view at TMA from June 17 through Oct. 22, 2017, is curated by Robin Reisenfeld, the Museum’s Works on Paper Curator.

“The dramatic force that Walker creates through her lively dialogue with traditional Civil War-era iconography is both poignant and layered,” said Reisenfeld. “We look forward to engaging the greater Toledo audience with the interaction of two perspectives embodied in this important suite of prints.”

The 836-page Harper’s anthology was edited by Alfred H. Guernsey and Henry Mills Alden. Among the original titled black-and-white prints that Walker “annotates” with her trademark silhouettes are “Cotton Hoards in Southern Swamp,” “Pack-Mules in the Mountains” and “Occupation of Alexandria.”

Born in Stockton, California, in 1969, Walker moved with her family to Atlanta in 1983. She received a BFA from the Atlanta College of Art in 1991 and an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994. She has been recognized with numerous awards, including the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 1997, and her work is held by prominent museums and private collections worldwide.

Kara Walker, Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated) is supported in part by the H. L. Thompson, Jr. Family Fund and the Ohio Arts Council.