Formal Analysis of Event Horizon
“Event Horizon” is a site-specific work by Kara Walker commissioned by the New School University that wraps around the walls in the staircase found in the lobby at Arnhold Hall. The piece was commissioned in 2005 and there are clear signs of student interaction with finger smudges along where the railing touches the wall. The piece is done with latex paint on wall using only black paint to create the shapes on the wall. The artist’s piece revolves around the ideas and stories that African slaves experienced during the time of their captivity, which the author achieves at a successful level with the use of movement in the painting.
This use of movement expresses the emotions of both the slaves and their owners, inviting the viewer to understand the troubles the slaves experienced while under captivity. When you ascend or descend the stairs, you can feel the difference in thickness between the wall and the black latex paint making the concept of the mural more tangible. The work is composed of black silhouettes of humans with exaggerated features who are in the process of making an action.
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The setting of the piece is in a long ditch with grass on the top and a dirt tunnel that becomes a complex as it descends. On the left side of the stairs is a man striking or about to strike a person with a whip and the second person falling violently into the ditch with their limbs in twisted flailing positions. On the right side, the artists depicts a small African child dropping a small ball like object into the winding tunnel where several larger African adults are either trying to climb out of the tunnel, struggle to not fall deeper, or have begun to settle in their ditches.
The tunnel walls are made to look very organic and appear unrealistic with curved vertices and corners that stick out providing ledges where the figures are leaning or sitting on. In this collection of tunnels, one female with a large brimmed hat and rolled up pants is attempting to make their way up the long ditch where the child is dropping the ball. Below this woman is another woman in a dress falling headfirst deeper into the tunnel with a child falling from her grasp in an arching position.
To the right of the woman in a dress are two adults in a wedge sitting and facing each other. They seem to be partaking in some activity with each others’ hands but are not in any way panicked or showing an attempt to leave the tunnels… Since the artwork is done in black and white, the race of the people is not evident except suggested in typical African American curled hair. In the case of the man whipping, his hair is straight and long, the woman being beat into the hole in the ground is depicted with short curled hair.
On the other side of the mural, the artist depicts multiple people underground that are confined into the small tunnel that shows a struggling pair of people trying to make their way back to the top where a child is seated dropping a round object in a careless manner into the tunnel. The tunnel itself is shown very stylistic with sudden turns and curves along the bottom of what becomes a cave. Walker shows the troubles of slaves when they were under the control of white slave owners and how they were driven into ditches in the ground and forced to survive and live in a status below that of white Americans.