Snapshot: Fear of a Black (Southern) Planet

Kara Walker's "Night Conjure"

Night Conjure from American Primitives, by Kara Walker, 2001. Mixed media and paper on canvas board, 8 x 10 in. © Kara Walker courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co. and Sprüth Magers.

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Snapshot: Fear of a Black (Southern) Planet

Kara Walker's "Night Conjure"

by Kameelah L. Martin
Southern Cultures, Gothic South (Vol. 29, No. 4)

“The Black woman is tossing an ambiguous object into a presumed hole in the ground, arguably to effect the desired outcome of her conjure spell. Indeed, both the woman and Walker are turning a hoodoo trick for the viewer.”

Kara Walker is renowned for art that invokes the American South as an intrinsic site of terror and suffering for Black folk. The Gothic allure of the region is partly conveyed through a visceral heaviness of cultural trauma paired with the spiritual potency of the enslaved Africans who lived there. Black folk have a dubious relationship with these landscapes, where the living dead—Indigenous, enslaved, Confederate, and everyone in between—saturate the natural world with their unresolved trauma. Walker has long explored the complexity of race relations during the rise and fall of the plantation economy, and in Night Conjure (2001), she inverts the iconography of Black fright against a white cotton field to envision other ways in which the South begat terror and for whom.

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