Through September 8th, Sprüth Magers presents Kara Walker’s video Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale (2011). Walker’s work is well known for the trenchant connections it draws between the legacy of slavery in the United States, historical narratives and cultural beliefs, sexuality, and contemporary race relations. Since the 1990s, she has worked with silhouetted wall works, drawings, installations, and videos to explore the uncertain lines between beauty and violence, attraction and repulsion, the past and the present. In Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale, Walker deploys her skilled paper puppetry to tell the painful story of a crucially relevant historical narrative.
In this seventeen-minute video, the story of a sexual encounter between a Southern Belle and a black man, and the brutal beating, castration and death that results, unfolds through shadow puppetry against simple, colorful and at times abstract backgrounds. The animation and attitudes of the characters are rendered deftly through this ancient form, and the shadows of the puppeteers (including Walking herself) are at times incorporated into the frame. The characters appear as forms starkly delineated, yet also empty and open to the renderings of the viewer’s imagination and the twists and turns of the narrative.
The story unfolds predominantly narratively, breaking this progression only when it doubles back on itself in moments of suggested memory or through interludes of seemingly unrelated content, like a man in a top hat dancing to cheerful music or the passing of flowering trees. These moments periodically jolt the viewer out of this historical context, subtly leading her back to the resonances with present moment. The soundtrack of the film presents another vehicle through which the viewer is transported both historically and culturally between moments and contexts. Moving between ambient noise and Delta Blues to groove music, the soundtrack adds a complex layer to Walker’s blending of cultural and historical references.
Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale is a portrait of a reality still, incredibly, overlooked in North America. Namely, the country’s blinded renderings of the history of slavery that is so fundamental to the mythology and brutality of this country. The film beautifully and chillingly speaks to the open wounds of American society’s insufficient recognition of the violence of the Antebellum era, a time that set the stage for the ongoing brutality of race relations through the 19th and 20th centuries, to the present day. In seventeen minutes, and through a simple and ancient story-telling technique, Walker manages to summon and point to the gratuitous amnesia, denial, resentment, and injustice that continue to shape the enormous failure of the United States to come to terms with this shameful historical and, resultantly, contemporary narrative about socio-economic and race relations in this country. In this film, Walker urges the viewer to relearn the origin stories that were established within and continue to feed a completely depraved system.
Exhibition Page [Sprüth Magers]