Maquette for The Katastwóf Karavan
Black painted laser-cut stainless steel maquette for The Katastwóf Karavan, a horse-drawn calliope with silhouetted images on all sides.
In February 2018, Kara Walker unveiled a major public art project at the Prospect.4 international art exhibition in New Orleans: The Katastwóf Karavan, a calliope (steam organ) housed in a horse-drawn wagon. The calliope will be Walker’s first public art project since "A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby," the colossal sugar Sphinx figure featuring a kerchiefed head of a mammy figure, caused a sensation in 2014. Staged in the defunct Williamsburg Domino Sugar factory, Sugar Baby was the largest single piece of public art ever erected in New York City and attracted some 130,000 visitors during its two-month installation.
Walker was inspired to create her ambitious new work during a recent visit to Algiers Point on the banks of the Mississippi in New Orleans, a site where slaves were once quarantined before being auctioned, and where, more recently, black men were shot on sight by white vigilantes in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Walking down a picturesque street in Algiers Point, she was startled by the deafening, alien sound of the steam calliope aboard the riverboat Natchez, which stimulated the concept for this project. She collaborated with avant-garde jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran, who composed spirituals for the calliope—an instrument associated with nineteenth-century riverboats and circuses—and performed them live during the Prospect exhibition. The wagon, named after the Haitian word for catastrophe (Katastwóf), was sited at Algiers Point.
Walker’s full-size calliope is housed in a stainless steel body on wooden wheels and pulled by four horses. Its sides and ends are laser cut in a manner that recalls her signature medium, cut-paper silhouettes. The provocative subject matter is also typical of Walker: unflinching imagery addressing the legacy of slavery, violence, sexual desire, and racial stereotyping, executed in a style evoking antebellum romanticized scenes of plantation life.
The California-born Walker earned a BFA at the Atlanta College of Art and an MFA at the Rhode Island School of Design. She burst onto the art scene in 1994 in a group exhibition at the Drawing Center with her large cut-paper silhouette installation "Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred B’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart," incorporating caricatured antebellum figures engaged in violent and sexual interactions. In addition to silhouettes, Walker works in drawing, sculpture, film, and video. In 1997, at the age of 28, she became the youngest recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant.
This example is number 14 of a limited edition of 30 stainless steel maquettes.