Kara Walker (American, b. 1969) was born in Stockton, California, and raised in Atlanta. She began to develop her idiom of brutally satirical large-scale cut-paper silhouettes laid out against white walls while still a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design and first showed this work in New York City in 1994. In 1997, she became one of the youngest artists ever to receive a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Award. Staging nightmarish scenes from the American cultural imaginary of slavery and making inventive use of proto-cinematic technologies such as silhouettes, shadow puppetry, and the panorama, her explorations of violent abjection and racist caricature have made Walker one of the most celebrated—and, at times, controversial—artists of her generation. She has gone on to work in media as varied as monumental installation, text, video, and drawing.
Event Horizon was commissioned by Stefano Basilico and the Committee for the University Art Collection in 2003, though it was not completed until two years later. This was Walker’s first permanent public commission and The New School’s first permanent public acquisition to be commissioned from a woman artist in more than seventy years of collecting such site-specific works—although numerous other works by women, including pieces by Adrian Piper, Dorothea Rockburne, Lorna Simpson, Nancy Spero, and Carrie Mae Weems, had been added to the Art Collection, notably during the tenure of Kathleen Goncharov as curator.
Walker’s installations consistently mix delicate detail with disturbing subject matter and epic historical sweep. Her art is always responsive to the power relations at play in its institutional settings, from museums to white-cube galleries to unusual locations like the former Domino Sugar warehouse on the Williamsburg waterfront, home to her monumental sculpture A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby (2014). This temporary installation, like many of Walker’s works, foregrounded the suffering and mother wit of women and children, presenting a gigantic carved “mammy” figure, surfaced in white sugar, crouching in the posture of the Sphinx and surrounded by life-size figures of child laborers cast in resin and coated in unrefined—and slowly melting—brown molasses candy.
At Arnhold Hall, a similarly fraught tableau of women and children caught in postures of victimization and resistance occupies the main stairwell leading from the ground-floor lobby to the Theresa Lang Community and Student Center on the second floor. Accentuating the narrowness of the sharply turning stairs, Walker in effect compresses her signature panoramic arrays into a precipitous plunge to the underworld—which, since the stairwell is partially enclosed by glass, nevertheless remains suggestively open.