Kara Walker creates historical allegories in which characters play out repulsive dramas of racial and gender bigotry with cool detachment and biting humor. This three-part drawing was inspired by a trip the artist took to Stone Mountain Park, outside Atlanta. Considered by some to be the spiritual home of the Ku Klux Klan, the park houses the infamous granite relief sculpture depicting three Confederate leaders of the Civil War: Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. Walker's large-scale drawing shows the generals and their horses, Klansmen, the Confederate flag, nude figures, and mules in a swirling, quasi-apocalyptic scene of domination and degradation. The central figure, a black man, his hands bound by rope, takes on the role of the martyr of Western history paintings. This work was made in 2015, a moment marked by Black Lives Matter, a mass mobilization to protest racial profiling and police brutality. The title refers to the undelivered reparations promised to emancipated slaves under the phrase "forty acres and a mule,"or land and an animal to work it. It also calls to mind the mule-led funeral procession for Martin Luther King, Jr., whose 1962 "I Have a Dream" speech proclaimed, "Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!"
Gallery label from Unfinished Conversations, March 19-July 30, 2017.