Kara Walker to Undertake Turbine Hall Commission: Nine Things You Need to Know

Tate Modern and Hyundai Motor last week announced that Kara Walker will create the next annual Hyundai Commission. Walker is renowned for her candid explorations of race, gender, sexuality and violence, from drawings, prints, murals, shadow puppets and projections to large-scale sculptural installations. Her new site-specific work for the Turbine Hall will be open to the public from 2 October 2019 to 5 April 2020. Here’s nine things you need to know

  • Kara Walker was born in Stockton, California in 1969 and was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Her work is represented in major museum collections across the USA and Europe and she has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation Achievement Award and the Eileen Harris Norton Fellowship.
  • She is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and is the Tepper Chair in Visual Arts at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. A major survey exhibition of her work opened at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 2007 and travelled to Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and the Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth. Other solo shows of her work have been held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, Camden Arts Centre in London and Metropolitan Arts Center (MAC) in Belfast.
  • Kara is perhaps best known for her use of black cut-paper silhouetted figures, often referencing the history of slavery and the antebellum South in the US through provocative and elaborate installations.
  • Her works have featured prominently in exhibitions around the world since the mid-1990s. Her first large-scale public commission opened in the derelict Domino Sugar Refinery in Brooklyn in 2014 and powerfully addressed the history of sugar production. Over 10 metres high and 23 metres long, A Subtlety was a monumental sculpture of a sphinx-like figure, covered in sugar and surrounded by smaller figures made of toffee, brown sugar and molasses.
  • She has since designed and directed a production of Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma for the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, and most recently she created The Katastwóf Karavan 2017, a musical installation as part of the Prospect.4 triennial in New Orleans. Taking the form of a calliope (a steam-powered organ) set inside a steel wagon and encircled by silhouetted figures, the work was used in a series of live performances as well as programmed to play songs related to African-American experience.
  • Frances Morris, Director, Tate Modern said: ‘Kara Walker fearlessly tackles some of the most complex issues we face today. Her work addresses history and identity with a powerful directness, but also with great understanding, nuance and wit. Seeing her respond to the industrial scale of the Turbine Hall – and the wider context of London and British history – is a hugely exciting proposition.’
  • Wonhong Cho, Executive Vice President, Hyundai Motor said: ‘We look forward to the fifth Hyundai Commission by Kara Walker, known for her explorations of history, culture, race and identity, and to the new ways in which she will engage audiences in the Turbine Hall. In partnership with organizations across the globe, Hyundai Motor will continue to invite international audiences to unique creative experiences.’
  • Since Tate Modern opened in 2000, the Turbine Hall has hosted some of the world’s most memorable and acclaimed works of contemporary art, reaching an audience of millions each year. The way artists have interpreted this vast industrial space has revolutionised public perceptions of contemporary art in the twenty-first century.
  • The annual Hyundai Commission gives artists an opportunity to create new work for this unique context. The commissions are made possible by the long-term partnership between Tate and Hyundai Motor, confirmed until 2025 as part of the longest initial commitment from a corporate sponsor in Tate’s history.


Image credit: Kara Walker (c) Ari Marcopoulos