Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick

“Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick” at the Frist Art Museum includes a poet’s response.

If you know anything about Kara Walker, it’s likely that she creates intricate silhouettes, some large enough to fill rooms. At first glance, her work may seem playful, quaint event. Closer inspection reveals graphic depictions of the violence and abuse that are part of the legacy of slavery, racism and colonialism.

“Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation,” includes more than 80 pieces created between 1994 and 2019 and features prints, sculptures, etchings and even film. The show is on view at the Frist Art Museum through Oct. 10, 2021, and was co-curated by Susan Edwards, the museum’s executive director and CEO, and poet Ciona Rouse.

“As I looked at the work, I felt there was so much depth and intergenerational inherited trauma,” Edwards said.

The museum has taken several steps to ensure the comfort of attendees, including references to discussions and resources throughout the exhibition and incorporating a quiet space for reflection midway through the show.

Teaming up with Rouse was another way to help people work through their responses to the often provocative pieces. “I think with poetry, it’s where the living and the dead come together,” Edwards said. “I was looking for a poet and Ciona was doing another program for us and just moved me… I really needed to see the work through her eyes.”

As it happens, Rouse’s previous in-person experience with Walker’s work came via the Frist Art Museum and the “30 Americans” show of 2013-2014. To prepare for her part in “Cut to the Quick,” Rouse immersed herself not only into Walker’s work, but also her “obsessions” and even the music Walker listened to in her studio while she created specific pieces. “A lot of the questions of identity and race were already in my work,” Rouse said.

The poems Rouse wrote in response to “Cut to the Quick” can be read on panels in the gallery or heard via recordings on the museum’s website.

For more information about “Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick,” visit fristartmuseum.org.