ArtistKara Walker (American, b. 1969)
DimensionsMat : 58 x 28 in. (1.5 m x 71.12 cm)
Credit LineHope College Collection
LabelKara Walker is best known for creating images in which black silhouette figures are set against a white background to create sometimes mysterious, sometimes shocking images that raise uncomfortable questions about race, gender and history. This print depicts a bare-breasted, weeping woman with an Afro hairstyle who holds a snake in one hand and a whip or flail in the other hand. The imagery recalls the story of Cleopatra, the last ruler of Egypt’s Ptolemaic Dynasty who committed suicide in 30 BCE by allowing a poisonous asp to bite her exposed chest. Applying the details of that story to this picture, the snake in the woman’s hand is the asp, while the flail represents a traditional symbol of Egyptian royal power. By portraying the woman with a stereotypically Black hairstyle, Walker encourages us to think about Cleopatra’s race and the status of Egypt as an African civilization. Cleopatra’s ancestors were Macedonian Greeks and she has traditionally been portrayed in European and American art with Caucasian features. However, many scholars have noted that ancient Egypt was a racial and cultural melting pot, where many Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and African civilizations came together. Cleopatra was the sixth generation of her family to live in Egypt, and it is entirely possible that her physical characteristics were quite different from those usually depicted in popular culture.
Getty AATfigures (representations)
human figures (visual works)