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artists' books collection

freedom: a fable, by kara elizabeth walker

Kara Elizabeth Walker, Freedom: A Fable [pop-up design by David Eisen, text designed by Timothy Silverlake]. ([Pasadena, CA]: [Typecraft], 1997)

Freedom: A Fable is the first work that Kara Walker has created in book format.  It was inspired by literary memoirs of former slaves and novels such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Similar to her murals, the artist employs black paper silhouettes to narrate the history of southern American slavery in an ironic, provocative, often subtly disturbing way. Set in the Civil War era, Freedom, A Fable tells the story of a female slave who is granted emancipation but still experiences oppression, discovering that freedom is indeed a fable.

The paper cut-outs recall popular 19th-century portrait silhouettes, while at the same time subverting their typical function. In Walker’s version, the demeaning postures and exaggerated features of her figures call attention to negative stereotypes of African Americans often found in minstrel shows, novels, and art of the 19th and early 20th centuries, revealing the corrosive power of stereotypes and prejudice.