In Kara Walker’s new show at Sikkema Jenkins & Co., there’s a drawing of former President Barack Obama as Othello, the titular Moorish general of Shakespeare’s 16th-century tragedy, holding the head of his enemy, Iago—who looks a lot like Donald Trump.
It’s one of several recent drawings by the artist depicting Obama in allegorical scenes that mix a mythological past with the racist reality of the present.
In Barack Obama as “An African” With a Fat Pig (2019), he’s shown as a tribesman through the eyes of a colonialist. In another, he’s labeled as Saint Anthony—the patron saint of lost things who was forced to prove the existence of God before heretics—as flying demons attack his flesh. It’s called Barack Obama Tormented Saint Anthony Putting Up With the Whole “Birther” Conspiracy (2019).
Finally, a cryptic drawing titled Allegory of the Obama Years by Kara E. Walker (2019) shows the former president in the sky, glowing and Godlike, as dark clouds close in. A figure cries from below, as if witnessing the disappearance of hope incarnate.
A 38-drawing installation stands as the centerpiece of Walker’s show. Titled The Gross Clinician: Pater Gravidam (2018), the work is based on Thomas Eakins famous 1875 painting, The Gross Clinic, which depicts a doctor lecturing over a woman undergoing a public operation. Walker’s version, rendered in graphite, gouache, and sumi ink, is more dynamic—a collection of violent, even phantasmagorical scenes that mix symbols of sin, war, murder, and protest.
See more images from the show below.
“Kara Walker: Drawings” is scheduled to be on view through April 4, 2020. As of now, Sikkema Jenkins & Co. remains open to the public.
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