Regarding the Pain of Others
“Wherever people feel safe (...) they will be indifferent.” - Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others
Nancy Spero, G.L.O.R.Y., 1967.
Gouache and Ink on Paper











Frances Benjamin Johnston photo of Louis Firetail (Sioux, Crow Creek), wearing tribal clothing, in American history class, Hampton Institute, Hampton, Virginia, 1899.

The disconnect between last Tuesday's monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling, depressing. The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public. Where is the acknowledgement that this was not a "cowardly" attack on "civilization" or "liberty" or "humanity" or "the free world" but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed super-power, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word "cowardly" is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards.

Our leaders are bent on convincing us that everything is O.K. America is not afraid. Our spirit is unbroken, although this was a day that will live in infamy and America is now at war. But everything is not O.K. And this was not Pearl Harbor. We have a robotic president who assures us that America stands tall. A wide spectrum of public figures, in and out of office, who are strongly opposed to the policies being pursued abroad by this Administration apparently feel free to say nothing more than that they stand united behind President Bush. A lot of thinking needs to be done, and perhaps is being done in Washington and elsewhere, about the ineptitude of American intelligence and counter-intelligence, about options available to American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, and about what constitutes a smart program of military defense. But the public is not being asked to bear much of the burden of reality. The unanimously applauded, self-congratulatory bromides of a Soviet Party Congress seemed contemptible. The unanimity of the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators in recent days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy.

Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management. Politics, the politics of a democracy--which entails disagreement, which promotes candor--has been replaced by psychotherapy. Let's by all means grieve together. But let's not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us to understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen. "Our country is strong", we are told again and again. I for one don't find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that's not all America has to be.

Susan Sontag, The New Yorker, September 24, 2001











“Needless to say, it is the two hundred year history of a shameful act conducted squarely within our consciousness that makes it possible for Walker to not only refuse shame but to blur the distinction between forms of shame. Even more important, Walker is aware that to speak of shame is simultaneously to speak of disgust, the overcoming of which is a prerequisite for sexual pleasure. Given the volume of shame, it is no wonder that the pleasures derived by her characters are often Sadistic in nature.” – Hamza Walker

installation at the Renaissance Society

Kara Walker, Keys to the Coop, 1997.











Liberation of Aunt Jemima

"All black people in America want to be slaves just a little bit." - Walker
Kara Walker's work is "sort of revolting and negative and a form of betrayal to the slaves, particularly women and children; that is that it was basically for the amusement and the investment of the white art establishment." - Betye Saar
"These are the slave narratives that were never written. Kara's work takes from fact but also fantasy and throws on its head any notion we might have of good and bad, right and wrong, black and white. There are no clear dichotomies." - Thelma Golden
"Walker refuses to see racism as a clear question of 'us versus them.' Instead, she performs a complex excavation of both the psychological and the sociological dimensions of identification." - David Joselit
Betye Saar, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima Cocktail, 1973.










You Do

Josephine Baker

Kara Walker, You Do, 1997.
Josephine Baker performing the Danse Sauvage in 1927.
Beyonce, Single Ladies, 2008.



Mark Steven Greenfield's website


Jason and Aaron White, The Dance, 2005.










Kara Walker, A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and
overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens
of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant
, 2014.


Creative Time
























Ken Gonzales Day, Erased Lynching, 2005.











Ken Gonzales Day, About a hundred yards from the road (from the Hang Trees series), 2002.
Ken Gonzales Day, Next morning when jimmy woke, the cowboys were gone (from the Hang Trees series), 2002.











Sam Durant, Proposal for White and Indian Dead Monument Transpositions, Washington, D.C., 2005.
MDF, fiberglass, foam, enamel, acrylic, basswood, balsa wood, birch veneer, and copper;
30 monuments: dimensions vary, architectural model 48” x 150” x 16".


Controversy over Scaffold Resolution











Dana Schutz, Open Casket, 2016.





















Curators' response to the controversy











Can't understand, can't imagine. That's what every soldier, and every journalist and aid worker and independent observer who has put in time under fire, and had the luck to elude the death that struck down others nearby, stubbornly feels. And they are right.” — Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others
Nona Faustine, From Her Body Came the Greatest Wealth, 2017.











Inside the Memorial to Victims of Lynching