LGBTQ “Queer Entanglements” Research Consortium 2016
Pleasing Papercuts: Masochism, Humor, and Misreading Kara Walker’s Silhouettes
In this lightning talk, I presented my exploration of Kara Walker’s silhouette tableaus, paying special attention to two pieces, Gone: An Historical Romance of A Civil War as It Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart and Slavery! Slavery! presenting a GRAND and LIFELIKE Panoramic Journey into Picturesque Southern Slavery or “ ‘Life at Ol’ Virginny’s Hole’ (sketches from Plantation Life)” See the Peculiar Institutions as never before! All cut from black paper by the able hand of Kara Elizabeth Walker, an emancipated Negress and leader in her Cause.
Walker's tableaus stage debauched scenes of racialized sexual fantasy that double as depictions of the violence of unspoken histories. The violent and disturbing sexual explicitness of her work radically argues against damaging racial fictions by deploying them, which often leaves critics divided about her work. This talk explored the queer potential of Walker's use of racial and sexual stereotyping in U.S. American visual culture. In the talk, I demonstrated how humor, the silence of the her medium, the excessive paratextuality of her work (their titles), and their frequent referencing of literary texts work together masochistically to create ambiguous emotional affects in viewers that can easily result in a misreading of the work. The project thinks through questions of display, the silence of forms, the productivity of silence, the queer potential of the tableau itself as a kind of orgy, visual resistance and textual excess, the paratextuality of Blackness, the queer affect of humor, and the democratizing force of low-brow humor as a vital practice and way of knowing.