Controversial Kara Walker Drawing Back on Display at Newark Public Library
A controversial drawing by a prominent African American artist that includes a depiction of a black slave performing oral sex on a white man is back on display in a Newark library.
The Newark Star-Ledger reports that the large drawing, by renowned artist Kara Walker, is currently on display at the Newark Public Library. The piece is meant to convey the horrors of racism from the slavery and reconstruction periods through the Jim Crow and civil rights struggles of the 20th century up to modern times.
Among the images in the drawing are hooded Ku Klux Klan members terrorizing blacks, members of a lynch mob with a rope chasing black lynching victims and a black female slave on her knees being forced to perform fellatio on an angry white man.
The drawing had originally been displayed in the library last year but was covered with a decorative canvas following public outcry.
Library Director Wilma Grey, who doesn’t have any problem with the drawing, agreed to cover it out of respect for the opinions of those who were offended by its imagery. Grey told the Star-Ledger that to her, the piece “evokes man’s inherent ability to be unkind to people.”
“It’s meant to evoke some kind of emotion that says all of these terrible things happened and that we should not be complacent.”
Walker, winner of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s prestigious genius grant, didn’t know at the time that the Newark Public Library was displaying her work.
“I am sorry that the staff is so put off by the work that they feel they need to prevent others from seeing it and making their own call to look or look away,” Walker said at the time. “I don’t advocate any kind of censorship. The promise of any artwork is that it can hold us, viewer and maker, in a conflicted or contestable space, without real-world injury or loss.”
Not only is the work back on display, Grey has invited Walker to come and talk about it, as well as about artistic freedom and the role of black artists in society.
Library trustee and Rutgers history Professor Clement A. Price welcomed the change.
“The library should be a safe harbor for controversies of all types, and those controversies can be dealt with in the context of what is known about art, about literature, democracy and freedom,” Price told the Star-Ledger. “There is no better venue in Newark where such a powerful and potentially controversial drawing should be mounted.”
Tagged African American artists, Clement A. Price, Kara Walker, Kara Walker controversial drawing, Kara Walker genius grant, MacArthur Foundation genius award, Newark library controversial drawing, Newark Public Library, Wilma Grey Newark Public Library