Watch: Roxane Gay on Kara Walker – ‘It’s Important That You Don’t Look Away’

In an exclusive video interview, the author of Bad Feminist talks about black bodies, freedom and the gaze in Kara Walker’s ‘Christ’s Entry into Journalism’

In a video interview produced by BBC Radio 3 and New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the writer Roxane Gay discusses the artist Kara Walker’s portrayal of African-American history. Gay chose to spotlight Walker’s Christ’s Entry into Journalism (2017): a monumental ink-and-pencil-on-paper work teeming with figures such as Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., lynched bodies, slaves, Klansmen and police. Gay said that Walker had managed ‘in a series of figures to depict the whole of African American history on one canvas’.

‘We see bodies always in motion, bodies often-times being subjected to the whims of others,’ Gay continues. ‘And so, it’s quite a portrait […] A piece like this demands that you linger because you want to take it all in and you want to see some of the nuance and the details that emerge.’

‘Many of the images are difficult, they’re painful and they’re supposed to be. And I think it’s important that you don’t look away, that you sit in that discomfort. There is a lot of productive work that happens in these uncomfortable spaces where we’re forced to confront history’.

The episode is part of a collaborative series produced by the BBC and MoMA, in which leading cultural figures explore their personal responses to ‘creativity, the look of art and the art of looking’, drawing on the MoMA collection. The series, presented by the critic Alastair Sooke and broadcast on Radio 3, also includes contributions from Orhan Pamuk, Madeleine Thien, Richard Serra, Steve Reich and Liz Diller, among many others. Gay’s contribution will be aired on Radio 3 at 10:45pm on Monday 28 October 2019.

‘This autumn BBC Radio 3 will be taking listeners into the heart of one of New York’s most vital cultural institutions,’ said Controller of BBC Radio 3 Alan Davey. ‘The series spotlights the importance of fresh, new perspectives and a chance to hear more about how art really makes us feel and why.’

MoMA reopened its doors to the New York public this week, following a four-month hiatus and extensive US$450 million expansion by the architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro. ‘You will not find a fire-starting view of art in this new MoMA, where narratives and careers and financial investments might not only be ‘reimagined’, but sent back to the cold white hell from which they’ve so often come,’ wrote Andrew Durbin in frieze. ‘Instead, you will find intelligent even-keeled curation which decentres some narratives and brings others forward, all the while asserting a relatively normative view of art.’

An exhibition of Kara Walker’s video works – curated by Hilton Als – is currently on view at Sprüth Magers London. Writing recently in frieze, Als discussed Walker’s ‘reinvention of painting and drawing’s conventions, while talking about ideas that were epic in scale and deep in blood.’ Meanwhile Walker’s Fons Americanus (2019) is on view at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall – a 13-metre-high fountain that evokes the ‘queasy mix of the sadism enabled by Britain’s imperial project and the idylls of the imperial imaginary’, Derica Shields writes.

BBC Radio 3 and MoMA’s collaborative series ‘The Way I See It’ is currently broadcasting Monday to Friday at 22.45pm – 23.00pm until 1 November 2019, and then returns on 2 December until 20 December 2019. The programme will also be available on BBC Sounds.

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