One of the most prominent and controversial young artists today, Kara Walker emerged on the international scene with several solo and group exhibitions in the mid 1990s. Walker has created a body of work that has sparked numerous reactions ranging from critical acclaim to outrage for its startling imagery and unflinching portrayal of often painful subject matter. Presenting the viewer with a dreamlike antebellum world Kara Walker chooses bizarre yet intriguing images, rooted in stereotypes, to comment on the system of slavery and its legacy in the American consciousness.
Best known for her panoramic friezes, Walker's signature medium, cut-paper silhouettes produced on a life-sized scale in a reduced color palette(typically black and white shapes against a white background, expands on a popular eighteenth and nineteenth century parlor art. Connected to the low arts, this medium was also associated with caricature and with the pseudo-science of physiognomy (a belief that facial features provide insight into a range of psychological and moral characteristics) Walker turns this decorative art form into a powerful medium by which she can evoke the complexity of slavery. Walker explores a fantasy slave plantation world in which her visual vocabulary includes stereotypical images from black memorabilia, folklore, historical novels, movies, cartoons old advertisements, Harlequin Romances, and the nineteenth- century slave autobiography. With her figures, transcribed by a fluid line, combining sublime beauty and disturbing content, the scenes created by Walker relate to a world full of mischief, violence, scatology and sensuality and are arranged in an order that is belied by the turbulence of the actions depicted.
Picturesque is divided into five separate panels with images that alternate between tough and sweet. Positioned side by side with the exception of the fourth panel, in which the image is separated and placed underneath, these scenes do not seem to share an obvious narrative. However, though disjointed and divided, these friezes present a type of story board incorporating characters that appear throughout Walker's oeuvre, encouraging the viewer to 'fill in the blanks.' The cropping of the image allows the mind of the viewer to wander endlessly. Walker presents a parallel universe of romantic dreamlike landscapes and a dark underworld, where a woman submerged under the ground by a shackled pair of legs appears to be trapped under the physical ground the shackled legs walk on. With no space to move, the character underneath the grass emulates the other characters trapped inside the frames to create a haunting effect.