Kara Walker: Replace Rubens…with a Fortune Telling Device

It is safe to say that Kara Walker is one of the most controversial contemporary artists, so it came as a surprise when I walked past a church in Cologne, Germany, and saw that they exhibit a piece of hers.

Her art tackles mainly racism and sexism, all of which were enforced by the Catholic church in their missionary efforts during colonialism. Just recently, the genocide of indigenous children in Canada was uncovered – which is only one example of the Catholic church’s colonial past.

In her paper silhouette “A Reduction” from 2020, which is on view at St. Peter in Cologne until September 12, Walker confronts the church’s involvement in colonialism via religious symbolism. The chalice holds the wine that symbolizes the blood of Christ, who sacrificed himself for “our sins”.

Kara Walker portrays several Christian sins in her works such as murder and drunkenness. On the bottom right, we see a woman killing another woman and on the top left, a man seems to be vomiting (presumably from alcohol), while sitting on top of the chalice. These events happen in the presence of the chalice, ridiculing Christian values and showing the hypocrisy of the church since violence and murder was done in the name of Christ in order to “civilize” non-Western people.

The work itself is already powerful, but its placement in this contradictory context makes it even more breathtaking. The sheer size of the piece as well as its display high up on the church wall makes it appear like some sort of reckoning. As viewers, we cannot escape the history of colonialism and we have to confront the Catholic church’s involvement in it. I don’t think there is a more interesting way to view her work than in the very institution she criticizes.

Kara Walker’s piece is on view until September 12, 2021, and is part of the series “Replace Rubens”. She was commissioned to create an artwork that is displayed instead of the Rubens painting of the Cruxification of Petrus.

For more information, visit St. Peter Köln: https://www.sankt-peter-koeln.de/wp/kunst-station/kara-walker-replace-r-with-a-fortune-telling-device/