IN ANTICIPATION OF ITS REOPENING, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York asked writer Roxane Gay to select a work of art from its collection and discuss what she sees in it. She chose “Christ’s Entry Into Journalism” (2017) by Kara Walker.

“She has managed in a series of figures to depict the whole of African American history on one canvas and that’s a pretty incredible thing to do,” Gay says in the video below.

During the summer of 2017, Walker made a series of large and small drawings for a fall exhibition at Sikkema Jenkins Gallery in New York. The title of the show garnered widespread attention due to its unwieldy length—a paragraph-long, tongue-in-cheek screed that referenced the outsized expectations and judgements placed on Walker and her work over the years.

It felt like there was more press about the title than the works presented in the show, which included “Christ’s Entry Into Journalism” (2017), a monumental work that expands Walker’s universe beyond the Antebellum South.

Acquired by MoMA last year, the drawing is more than 11 feet high and 16 feet wide providing an expansive landscape upon which Walker has scattered disturbing and documentary images, figures plucked from the arc of America’s racial history and sprung from her own imagination. Using Sumi ink and collage on paper, her stream-of-conscious renderings collapse time.

At the top of the drawing, the lifeless black body of a lynching victim hangs from the same tree limb as two trapeze artists. There are slaves, Klansmen, Martin Luther King Jr., James Brown commanding a mic, a Black Power figure, and police dressed in riot gear. With her arms raised in a hallelujah moment, a lady in wide-brimmed church hat stands with her back to the viewer. Just above her, a white woman holds on a platter the head of a young black man wearing a hoodie.

“[Kara Walker] has managed in a series of figures to depict the whole of African American history on one canvas and that’s a pretty incredible thing to do.” — Roxane Gay


Writer Roxane Gay talks about what she sees in “Christ’s Entry Into Journalism” (2017) by Kara Walker, a monumental drawing now on view in the collection galleries at the Museum of Modern Art. | Video by MoMA

 

When MoMA reopened this week after a $450 million renovation, “Christ’s Entry Into Journalism” was on view. The work is displayed in the 1970s to Present collection galleries on the second floor. Walker’s drawing is hung alongside works by Jack Whitten, Deanna Lawson, Michaela Eichwald, and Nairy Baghramian. Describing the grouping, the museum states that “these artists share a strong affinity in daring to reimagine history” and “some of these works address historical traumas and their present-day echoes…”

Before “Christ’s Entry Into Journalism” was installed, the museum unfurled the drawing on the floor and asked Gay what she thought about it. A professor of English, Gay is a contributing opinion writer at the New York Times, author of “Hunger” and “Bad Feminist,” and editor of the recently published “Not That Bad: Dispatches From Rape Culture,” She says Walker’s work made her feel “overwhelmed” because of its scope and the painful, difficult images.

“They’re painful and they are supposed to be and I think it’s important that you don’t look away. That you sit in that discomfort. There’s a lot of, I think, productive work that happens in these uncomfortable spaces where we are forced to confront history,” Gay says in the video.

“It’s always great to see something of your life and your ideology reflected back to you, especially as women of color. We don’t see that a lot. Kara always prioritizes black bodies and though there is an absurdity to some of the things that black people have been subjected to, she is playing with that absurdity. It challenges me.”

The writer adds: “Art doesn’t ask you to just react. It asks you to move toward something different and that’s important. So I think I feel more motivated to continue doing the work that I do than to just sit in anger.” CT

 

TOP IMAGE: KARA WALKER, “Christ’s Entry into Journalism,” 2017 (ink and pencil on paper, cut-and-pasted on painted paper, 140 1/2 × 196 inches / 356.9 × 497.8 cm). | Acquired through the generosity of Agnes Gund, the Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, Carol and Morton Rapp, Marnie Pillsbury, the Contemporary Drawing and Print Associates, and Committee on Drawings and Prints Fund. 198.2018

 

BOOKSHELF
“Kara Walker: Figa” was published earlier this year and “Kara Walker: Hyundai Commission” is forthcoming next month. Published in 2017, “Kara Walker – MCMXCIX” is a sketchbook that features works by Kara Walker, dating back to 1999 when the artist was 29. “The Ecstasy of St. Kara: Kara Walker” accompanied an exhibition of new works—influenced in part by Walker’s residency at the American Academy in Rome.

 


Detail of KARA WALKER, “Christ’s Entry into Journalism,” 2017 (ink and pencil on paper, cut-and-pasted on painted paper, 140 1/2 × 196 inches / 356.9 × 497.8 cm). | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine

 


Detail of KARA WALKER, “Christ’s Entry into Journalism,” 2017 (ink and pencil on paper, cut-and-pasted on painted paper, 140 1/2 × 196 inches / 356.9 × 497.8 cm). | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine

 

The exhibition label for “Christ’s Entry into Journalism” by Kara Walker reads:

    The past and present collapse in this piece, beginning with its title, which invokes Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. Alongside depictions of recognizable figures like Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr., the crowd teems with Klansmen, riot police, slaves, and soldiers; both American and confederate flags are flown. Some figures jump or dance, as if animated by a misplaced feeling of merriment. Near the work’s upper edge, the mass of bodies culminates with a lynched man flanked by a pair of irreverent trapeze artists. By arranging myriad historical figures and forces on a single plane, Walker generates a version of history that is complex and nonlinear, merging various moments from the past into an atemporal coexistence


Detail of KARA WALKER, “Christ’s Entry into Journalism,” 2017 (ink and pencil on paper, cut-and-pasted on painted paper, 140 1/2 × 196 inches / 356.9 × 497.8 cm). | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine

 

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