I’ve chosen a collection of images that use strong contrast and value to create and emphasize shadows and negative space. I find the initial ambiguity and anonymity of these figures, places, and designs to be elusive of the real subject being represented.

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One of five prints from the suite "The Means to an End--A Shadow Drama in Five Acts"

Accession Number

One of five prints from the suite "The Means to an End--A Shadow Drama in Five Acts"

Kara Walker

Artist Nationality
American (North American)

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
aquatint and etching on light cream Somerset Satin wove paper

34 3/4 x 23 5/16 in. (88.2 x 59.2 cm)

Credit Line
Museum purchase made possible by the Jean Paul Slusser Memorial Fund

Label copy
Kara Walker is a young African-American artist living and working in Providence, RI. Looking back to 19th-century American cut-paper silhouettes forming tableaux, the artist makes panoramic prints that simulate shadow plays. Characteristically Walker’s prints are on racial themes and feature pre-Civil War stereotypes: slave and master, adult and child. This suite of five prints shows a swampland with the heads of escaping slaves visible above the surface of the water; the scene is enframed by a mother nursing a child at left and a master throttling the neck of a captured slave child at right. These enigmatic narrative elements evoke the distant world of the historical novel. Both the use of silhouettes and the sobriquets enable the artist to distance herself and the viewer from the suggestions of physical violence and sexual threat on the part of the master, and the passive acceptance of these acts by the victimized slaves.
The prints was published in an edition of 20 by Landfall Press in Chicago. The fine aquatint texture of the black areas with their crisp, curving contours makes a voluptuous contrast with the velvety surface of the heavy, smooth cream Somerset Satin wove paper.

Primary Object Classification

Collection Area
Modern and Contemporary

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heads (animal components)
modern and contemporary art

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& Author Notes

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