Kara Walker: American Romance in Black and White

Publication year

This is about "Kara Walker's silhouette installation The Battle of Atlanta: Being the Narrative of a Negress in the Flames of Desire - A Reconstruction (1995), which is a work of art, not a romance novel. However,

The romance novel is a subject of sustained creative and critical reflection in Walker's oeuvre. The genre has inspired Walker to write a number of creative texts, several of which are gathered in the exhibition catalog and artist's book published on the occasion of her 1997 Renaissance Society exhibition at the University of Chicago. She has, additionally, written and spoken frequently about the resonance she means to establish between her silhouettes and a certain type of twentieth-century historical romance. "My work," Walker explains, "is intended to function like Harlequin Romance novels which veil themselves in history and encourage women to participate in stories that are not in their best interests." [...] Citing a passage from Barbara Ferry Johnson's historical romance novel, The Heirs of Love (1980) [...] Walker then asserts, "Historical romances are the by-product of self-hatred, internalized sexism, and a remarkable kind of racism, the kind that makes one comfortable enough with it to become lustful for it." (133-134)

it is productive to [...] consider the images a critique of the historical romance novels Walker gestures towards, as well as illustrations of interracial love that foreground the entanglement of power with erotic desire. The fact that Walker herself underestimates the critical and creative power of the genre suggests that her visual intervention may run parallel to, rather than intersecting with, more recent literary trends. (149)