Two years ago, the Harvard Art Museums bought “American Idioms», a massive collage and drawing by the contemporary artist Kara Walkerwho first shook the art world in 1994 with his paper-cut silhouettes that evoked the horrors of slavery and its lasting impact on contemporary America.
Walker’s work made its long-awaited debut at Harvard last week.
“USA Idioms,” created in the summer of 2017 in the wake of violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia involving white nationalists, supremacists and counter-protesters, targets the same topics through a series of vignettes depicting prominent figures and African-American oppressors. . In the work, bodies are woven through the branches of a dead tree; others perch atop a stump. A torn Confederate flag flies from a branch. What appears to be a white flag hangs from another.
Walker’s work speaks to the present moment “in such a vital, critical, engaging way,” said Mary Schneider Enriquez, associate curator of modern and contemporary art at Houghton, who helped acquire the new work and to set up the gallery where the drawing is visible until the beginning of October.
Similar to the images Walker created for his earlier silhouettes, the characters in ‘USA Idioms’ are familiar stereotypes from our past that we’ve all seen and taken for granted,” Enriquez said. “We all recognize from one way or another each of the figures in the room, but the more you look at it, the more the design becomes both familiar and then completely disturbing and strange.”