Walker's Influences
open quote I wanted to become an artist when I was about three, primarily because my father is also an artist--he's a painter and teaches and has taught for many years--of the sort that you might find in The Museum of Modern Art, perhaps, one day ... Because of him, I've gained a desire to have an imagination, which was never very easy for me ... [and] was epitomized by being able to fantasize about traveling in time. But I could never really fully imagine myself doing that, because there was always some bit of brutality, some little hint of reality, that prevented me from getting very far ...

I guess there was a little bit of a slight rebellion, maybe a little bit of renegade desire that made me realize at some point in my adolescence that I really liked pictures that told stories of things--genre paintings, historical paintings--the sort of derivatives we get in contemporary society. When I was coming along in Georgia, I became black in more senses than just the kind of multicultural acceptance that I grew up with in California. Blackness became a very loaded subject, a very loaded thing to be--all about forbidden passions and desires, and all about a history that's still living, very present ... the shame of the South and the shame of the South's past; its legacy and its contemporary troubles. Race issues are always at the heart of these matters. And then I got interested in the ways that I almost wanted to aim to please ... and fulfill these kinds of desires, these assumptions and associations with blackness. I became very submissive and subservient to myths about blackness, the [kind of] blackness that's exotic, animalistic, or savage; or noble and strong and forceful--worth putting on display, something grander than grand.

And so I started a couple of years ago keeping a notebook of words and ideas and images, and just about anything that I could to process what blackness was and is all about for me--very personal writings, along with just clippings, nothing that was art, just a way of getting at ideas. I was, at the time, interested in Adrian Piper's political self-portraits and maybe the way she could discuss an incident in her childhood and merge it with a larger political issue or agenda. Also [in] collecting little bits of ... Black Americana from flea markets around the area, but nothing of the sort that serious collectors might find ... sometimes reproductions of older works, things that are being pulled out of the attics and mass-produced for the benefit of this newly aware black collecting audience...

I knew that if I was going to make work that had to deal with race issues, they were going to be full of contradictions. Because I always felt that it's really a love affair that we've got going in this country, a love affair with the idea of it [race issues], with the notion of major conflict that needs to be overcome and maybe a fear of what happens when that thing is overcome-- And, of course, these issues also translate into [the] very personal: Who am I beyond this skin I'm in?close quote

complete transcript

©1999 The Museum of Modern Art, New York