Kara Walker chosen for Tate Modern's Turbine Hall showcase

Work of African American artist has explored race, gender, sexuality and violence

An African American artist known for her racially charged art addressing slavery and its legacy, is to be Tate Modern’s next commission for its Turbine Hall.

Kara Walker is probably best known for her use of black cut-paper silhouetted figures to depict scenes of horror. She shot to fame in 1994, when using them to create a room-size mural featuring rape and dismemberment of African American women and children by cheerful white men, and lynched black men dangling from tree branches.

Two years later, Walker became one of the youngest ever recipients of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, aged 27.

The choice of the artist to create the prestigious Hyundai commission comes at a time when far-right populism is on the rise. In the US, the election of Donald Trump and a series of police shootings of young black men have prompted fears that civil rights gains are being reversed.

Frances Morris, the Tate Modern director, said: “Kara Walker fearlessly tackles some of the most complex issues we face today. 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.”

The details of her creation for the Tate Modern have not been revealed but, since she first came to prominence in the mid-1990s, Walker has been making waves for her candid explorations of race, gender, sexuality and violence.

Her work, including drawings, prints, murals, shadow puppets, projections and large-scale sculptural installation, has often provoked controversy. Walker, whose work has referenced the Confederate states of America, has said in the past that galleries in the south have refused to show her work. She has also faced opposition from older African American artists such as Betye Saar, who campaigned to get Walker’s work banned from public galleries, arguing it played into white stereotypes of black people.

Walker has said her art “makes people queasy. And I like that queasy feeling.”

Her first large-scale public commission opened in the derelict Domino sugar refinery in Brooklyn in 2014, addressing the history of sugar production and its inextricable link with slavery. Over 10 metres high and 23 metres long, A Subtlety was a monumental sculpture of a sphinx-like figure, covered in sugar and surrounded by smaller figures made of toffee, brown sugar and molasses.

She has since designed and directed a production of Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma for the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015.

Most recently, she created The Katastwóf Karavan 2017, a musical installation as part of the Prospect.4 triennial in New Orleans. A calliope (steam-powered organ) set inside a steel wagon and encircled by silhouetted figures played songs of African American resistance.

Previous memorable Turbine Hall commissions have included Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project installation, inviting people to lie down and bask in dazzling fake sunlight, Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds, and Carsten Höller’s hair-raising slides.

Walker’s work for the Turbine Hall will be open to the public from Wednesday 2 October 2019 to Sunday 5 April 2020.


Haroon Siddique

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Tino Sehgal fills Tate Modern's Turbine Hall with storytellers

Anglo-German artist's These Associations is first Turbine Hall installation to use personal interaction

Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer

23, Jul, 2012 @1:21 PM

Article image
Unilever ends £4.4m sponsorship of Tate Modern's turbine hall

Search on for new sponsor while hall closes during construction of £215m extension at Bankside gallery

David Batty

16, Aug, 2012 @5:34 PM

Article image
Tania Bruguera wins Tate Modern Turbine Hall commission
Cuban performance artist known for politically charged work to undertake next show

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

21, Feb, 2018 @9:00 AM

Article image
Danish artists Superflex next for Tate Modern Turbine Hall
Art world waits to see how collective known for highly political work will fill huge exhibition space in London

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

16, Mar, 2017 @1:50 PM

Article image
Tate Modern cultivates interest in latest Turbine Hall show
Artist Abraham Cruzvillegas has filled 240 planters with soil for his Empty Lot work – and now it’s a case of watching and waiting to see what happens

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

12, Oct, 2015 @11:57 AM

Article image
Tate Modern's Turbine Hall of fame: the best and worst artworks so far
As Tate Modern reveals its latest Turbine Hall blockbuster, Jonathan Jones gives his verdict on which installations have worked best so far, and which have failed to rise to the enormous challenge

Jonathan Jones

16, Oct, 2015 @2:44 PM

Article image
Tate Modern's Turbine Hall recreates a 1971 art sensation

Revival of infamous Bodyspacemotionthings exhibition allows Tate audience to crawl, clamber, balance and slide

Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer

05, Apr, 2009 @11:01 PM

Article image
Tate Modern's Olympic-sized expansion to open in June 2016
Extended London art gallery in former power station that was set to open for 2012 Olympics boasts 20,700 sq m more space

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

22, Sep, 2015 @1:45 PM

Article image
In full swing: Tate's Turbine Hall turned into adult playground
Tate Modern installation One Two Three Swing! uses three-person swing to combat social apathy through collective action

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

02, Oct, 2017 @12:05 PM

Article image
Climate change activists occupy Tate Modern's Turbine Hall
Latest protest by Liberate Tate against BP sponsorship of gallery will last for 25 hours if they can remain in building after closing time

Karl Mathiesen

13, Jun, 2015 @11:43 AM