Kara Elizabeth Walker
American, born 1969
In Resurrection Story with Patrons, Kara Walker reimagines a genre of Medieval and Renaissance altarpieces in which a central panel is flanked on either side by portraits of the work’s commissioners, who were often powerful and influential patrons of the arts. Unlike their historical predecessors, the couple in Walker’s three-part composition appear to be African American and are visually similar to the black residents of the antebellum South that populate the artist’s large-scale installations, films, and other works on paper. Here, the central image is also unusual: as opposed to the traditional gathering of saints or a biblical scene, it depicts the raising of a colossal statue of a naked black woman by the sea. The triptych’s title, Resurrection Story with Patrons, further confounds the narrative: Is the figure here one that has fallen and is being resurrected in front of our eyes, or is it being newly erected, only to require resurrection in the future? Ultimately, the many ambiguities and contradictions inherent in this work convey the complex lived reality and cultural representation of African Americans today, “alternating between captor and redeemer,” as Walker has said in her own words.