Kara Walker

Artist continually asking questions of America’s racist past and present

‘Epic in scale and deep in blood’ was how Hilton Als characterised Walker’s work this year. The critic may have had an inkling of the artist’s commission for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall – he curated a concurrent exhibition of her film work at London’s Sprüth Magers – but he was bang on the money. Founded with money from the sugar trade, inextricably linked to slavery and colonialism, the Tate provided a fitting context for Walker’s razor-sharp pastiche of the Queen Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace. Working on a grand scale, Walker created this 13-metre tall, faux-baroque and fully operational fountain as, in her own words, an ‘allegorical wonder’ in which histories of racist violence play out alongside scenes of black representation in art history. Walker’s older work continues to make a splash, and her steam-powered calliope – which plays African-American resistance songs – trundled up to the Whitney in New York this October.