Etienne de Silhouette

N, A and I went to the Whitney on Friday to see My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love. As I’m sure you all know, the exhibition consists mainly of black paper silhouettes casting narratives of the antebellum south. There are about four cycloramas, two with color. There’s a lot to say about this exhibit, but it’s also hard to articulate art so heavy. I don’t know her body of work, so for the sake of accuracy I’ll say that for this show she seems to see the world as black and white, literally and figuratively. This basic, simplistic way of viewing the world, gives this show a sort of ironic humor, a sick and vaguely sarcastic edge. By simplifying complicated things, by making every single person she depicts as black, casting everyone as a shadow, reducing appearances to a silhouette, she’s recreating historical narratives, spinning her own fantasies but with authority, as if hers was the official re-telling. N and A and I discussed the irony of juxtaposing slave narratives via the delicate craft (and once bourgeois art form) of paper-cutouts. She’s imbuing violent images with a fragility, a sort of grace. There’s a wall filled with framed furious responses to critics, films where Walker serves as puppeteer, and the most compelling inconsistency – the museum bills this show as My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love, but on a wall as part of the exhibit, Walker has stenciled out a letter and in it goes the refrain: My Compliment (notice spelling), My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love. What gives?



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