August 3, 2018 in Art
A Political Statement in Art

Our world consists of various types of images surrounding us every day

Some of those images provoke the feelings of happiness or sadness; they enrich our lives with positive of negative notes. A certain type of art that goes further in its meaning is called contemporary political art. Such art is a creation of thought-provoking masterpieces reflecting a certain party involved in politics or its organization. These works are mostly concerned with the thematic debate where the thinkers and artists try to avoid direct authoritative statements and gather the audience’s attention by their own art word style through their works.

Most of the time, contemporary artists focus of vital political problems that were under debate for many years. This essay is an attempt to analyze the works of Kara Walker, an African American artist exploring identity, race, gender, violence and sexuality. Her art is best recognized for her room-size black silhouettes cut of paper.

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Doris Salcedo, a Colombian sculptor whose works are famous for addressing the questions of memory and forgetting in her installations, is the second chosen artist whose works to be analyzed in this essay. Moreover, her art also transforms the ideas of ordinary items into the political art exhibits.

The last from the preferred list to be analyzed is Carrie Mae Weems, an American artist and photographer famous for its award-winning videos and photographs that have been displayed in many countries of the world. She focuses mainly on vital issues facing African Americans nowadays and explores politics, gender relations, personal identity and racism.

These three chosen artists have different background, style of self-expression and world perception. However, the only medium that connects them all is the presence of the congenital rebels in themselves who by making political statements are searching and fighting for truth.

Kara Walker

Walker’s works are the significant political statements that delicately remind its audience of persistence racism nowadays. Her black and white dichotomy breaks down the stereotypic cultural imagery. Some of the art analysts consider Walker’s works as those that reflect a popular culture on subconscious level (Irreverently, 2007).  Walker’s unique style and particular colors reflected her war mood against those who disparage others. Some of her works is the self-reflection of her own struggles on the racism issues. She says that she wants her viewers to feel and experience the atmosphere of encountering a history of those times that they did not know before.

At the same time, her critics claim that her slave narrative use is dominant and her negative stereotypes help her to enforce a false history in the minds of both white and black audience. Many of them consider Walker’s success as something even against other black artists.

Some of her critics are claiming of her particular intention to reinforce negative stereotypes. They explain that Walker knows that her audience appeals to a group of wealthy white art sellers. Thus, in this way she sacrifices her own culture and history with the aim to achieve further success.

Walker is unaccountably popular in the mainstream art

That helps to favor substantially African-Americans negative images over the positive ones, neutral or those images that are not related to race, which are done by black artists (Leslie, 1997).

Her work The Emancipation Approximation, 2000 is the evidence of her ideas. Despite the fact that Walker intends her work to be thought- provoking, this can be understood from that artwork. Her initial aim is to foster the dialog but not to create a shocking effect.

As we see on the exhibit, the combination of espionages and objects are quite contradictive: upper class woman who leans on the stump with connected axe and the heads of black people snapped out around. At the first sight, this combination of images creates a real shocking effect such as the combination of beauty and death, axe and beauty, stump and dead heads around.

Moreover, by integrating primarily uncombined things in her work Walker might sound even a bit ironic and satirical. However, such intended depiction of images in this way provokes as socially political grounded commentary and in no way the comedy.

It is true that the works of Walker can be understood in many ways. The most important thing is quite clear from her those political statements: Walker’s individual intent to portray the history of specific satirical people or moments. Through her works, Walker’s is perceived as both an artist and the fictional historian.

As we see, Walker’s art is both fantastical and political with the real and imagined elements that depict American history and culture. Walker is considered as one of not many successful African-American stars in art, black community perceives her works as a mouthpiece. However, that is not the only role that she desires to play or claims.

For the aforementioned reason, there is a chance for her works to be interpreted or even misinterpreted by certain viewers. There is a risk that they may imagine her histories literally by perpetuating various negative stereotypes. They may be more or less satirical to various groups of viewers O‘Brien (2004).

Despite Walker’s art has a variety of subjects, her address to race is the most prominent one. She is the one of the African-American artists who creates many images at the same time. Her combination of abstract work and political statements creates positive stereotypes about various topics including race; that gives a chance to strengthen the controversies over Walker’s masterpieces.

However, if the outsiders are going to perceive her as the one who represents the entire community of black artists, she might be strictly criticized. As nowadays reality and art are collided, it is very important to see the line of truth between the depictions of the artists and system representation; such system can pervert the artist’s intents quite frequently. Thus, it is important that the viewers have an access to many art choices in African-American topics in particular.

Doris Salcedo

Salcedo is a Colombian artist is famous for its employment of objects from the past that are saturated with highly significant history sense. Using those sculptures that represent contemporary memory, she is able to illustrate general flow of time by joining the present and the past. It seems like she is able to repair seen but incomplete objects.  

Looking at her artworks of the Eighth Istanbul Biennial (Universe-in Universe, 2003), it is clear how powerfully her masterpiece brings the materials together. She is convinced that her sculptures are materials that are charged with their importance and meaning already. Those objects, as we see, are use in everyday life practice. She is able to reach the metamorphosis by changing ordinary objects onto the powerful instruments that can reflect, address and influence political statements in her art.

The focus of her recent installations is the delineation of the negative space. The chair that are used as powerful objects are empowered with the certain strength in her artworks. According to Morgan (2012), Salcedo filled in the spot between two Istanbul buildings and stacked about two thousand of chairs that reminded the passers-by a small building. It all happened in 2003.

As we can see, the chairs are piled chaotically between the buildings. This huge number of those objects functions as a memorial for those faceless society members whose work and live passes unnoticed.

What is essential, her work that was built for the Annual Istanbul Biennale was not the only thematically similar Salcedo reflection. This Colombian artist produced other similar concepts. Salcedo’s lowered wooden chairs in her various works make her masterpieces quickly recognized among the works of other contemporary artists representing political art all over the world.

Salcedo, by reusing the objects in other art works remains sensitive to those she tries to represent. It contributes to generate evocative and timeless art. Doing that, she is able to pull out the memory of all the personal stories within those artworks. Salcedo is able to renew and transform those explored parts that she considers specific political, geographic and architectural importance.

Salcedo’s oeuvre has quite an explicit and clear political shade. However, that accent is never loud. It does not sound as propaganda for a certain motive. Despite the fact that Salcedo has a real reason to sound politically strong, yet she stops from narrowing her exhibits down to merely those political statements.

The way of intensity with which Salcedo creates her objects and chooses corresponding environment changes the relationship of the viewers to such political widely debated issues as exclusion and violence. Despite she demonstrates serious political issues, they are depicted very accurately where even the feeling of mourning are impossible.

Salcedo’s artworks are political, but the way she addresses those events are never interpreted in one way. For example, even such event as a political murder is quite inspiring as this is Salcedo’s address to her viewers. Moreover, the artist’s creation of the artwork is the whole strategy, which makes her political statements even more wide and deep, and, thus, having the potential to be more influential.

Carrie Mae Weems

Weems is an American socially motivated artist who creates on the issues of class, gender and race. The global battle for justice and equality are the main topics of her artworks.

Weems’s retrospective are not only photographs but videos, audio recordings, written texts and fabric banners as well. All of that left the trace in her career evolution.  Despite the fact that she addresses her issues in various ways, she is committed to close examination and better understanding of the present based on historical facts.

The viewer can notice her identity throughout all the works. There is also a notion of universality. Despite African-Americans are Weems’s primary subjects, she still desires to resonate with audiences that present all the races in her art.

Weems, in her photo series From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (MoMA, 2013), uses not her own pictures but of black women and men of the 18th and 19th century. She presents them in the frame as of those times. Besides the image, Weems also inserts her own text in white writing on the images. That allows her to address her photos topic regarding the racism legacy more precisely.

As we see, Weems first selected the photographs of black women and men from the slavery times they were forced into in the United States, later she rephotographed those pictures, made them larger and finally gave them red tone. To strengthen her political statement about the injustice and racism, she inscribed then a white text on them. Producing such a unique art works Weems offers a strong thematically filled contemporary reading of the historical group of those times that become strong political statements against racism and inequality.


The analysis of the three world-known works of contemporary artists has shown their particular self-expression and perception on how to speak on vital political issues such as racism, gender inequalities, and poverty and, at the same time, how to stay aside from politics still being a thought-provoking generators. Each artist is unique in their own way, which makes their contribution to the world of art even more significant.

Walker’s art works are special in a way that they are the depiction of, at the first sight, unconnected subjects that might even have a satiric note. However, the whole idea is self-restrained. The colors of her works are black and white (or grey), which might have a couple of meanings as well. The topic of her idea can be both black and white people’s interactions and strict delineation of their lives: no colors or shades that make it more serious and unique. Moreover, that gamma symbolizes strict politics and the desire to address the issues respectively.

Salcedo’s art works are unique in her attempts to address the questions of memory and forgetting by combining past and present into one single timeline. He use of objects plays an important role to stress on the issues she raises and helps sounding more strong in her political statements.

Weems, being a unique photographer, video and audio maker and writer of the texts brought her light to the contemporary political art as well. Her self-expression of adding the text on the old pictures let the viewers see her creativity intents. The color of those writing on the text is also symbolical. It creates the idea of the necessity of purity in all the dark sides of the politics of slavery and inequality times.

To conclude, each of the chosen contemporary artists contribute a lot to the political art. The most essential is to have their ideas and thoughts heard by the main world decision-makers.


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