Sunday, April 4, 2010


In researching Kara Walker's art work, I came upon the aspect of the way caricature and art contribute to the creation of identity. Many readings and caricatures we have studied throughout this course have evolved around the idea of creating identity, whether it be a 'new' distorted identity, through stereotypical caricaturisation of ones physiognomy and anatomy, such as Richard Nixon's nose; or creating the identity of a race, gender, and or class, such as the Fashion Plates I posted last week, and even the creation of the Yellow Kid comic. All these caricatures made use of stereotypes, in order to identify a certain person or group of people; as a result, these newly formed characters became the way in which the people they emulated were identified.
Kara Walker concentrated mostly on social, political and historical means of racial profiling. Kara Walker's "Narratives of a Negress" discusses the ways she used many historical figures and narratives in order to "confront contemporary perceptions"(111). She confronts societies "social construction of race," and the various ways we identify race through stereotypes. These two details of her work, created through cut paper and adhesive on a wall, were meant to distort the viewers perception of race, and identity. Although the figures are all black in appearance, she uses the stylization of dress and hair to imply visual cues to which race/gender each figure represented. She also uses stereotypical physiognomy of the face and body stature, in order to identify each character.
It is interesting to see the ways in which many caricature artists use common stereotypes in order to visually identify the characters in their work. "Narratives of a Negress" discusses how "the compulsive repetition of stereotypes can tell us as much about a dominant groups anxieties and instabilities as about its power to control the social world" (120). Stereotyping is not believed to be a good thing, and yet it is used so frequently throughout history, the media and art, that it has become essential to our understanding and comprehension of certain things. Most of us fall, in some way or another into some form of a stereotype. The visiting artist discussed how it is easier to caricature someone you don't know; is this because we can categorize them into a stereotype/category based on visual appearance? It is interesting to think of the ways in which we are identified visually, vs our actual personal value as an identity. Since all caricature is based on this visual identification, does all caricature use, in some way, a form of stereotyping in order to create the various identities of its characters? Is this what makes it so easy to create these new, fictitious identities of people we are able to visually identify, such as presidents, adding on a whole new personality to their appearance?

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