Label Text: This screenprint features a barefoot, African American girl holding a dripping cloth. A squat, presumably male figure with a large head, flat nose, and long monkey tail faces her. The monkey figure and the title refer to the racist 19th-century practice of comparing African Americans’ physical characteristics and behavior to those of monkeys.
Kara Walker’s black and white silhouettes have been called lewd and grotesque, but also powerful and historically significant. Drawing her imagery from pre-Civil War narratives and African American stereotypes, Walker explores our perception of the “other.” Mimicking the 19th-century silhouette technique (also called poor man’s portraiture), Walker places her characters in a world where everyone is “black,” everyone is “other.” At first glance, her works have a humor and sarcasm that brings an initial giggle from the viewer, but the laughter fades as the viewer looks more closely and comprehends the messages of race, gender, and class.