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Kara Walker’s mumbo jumbo


Roberta and I both went to the Fabric Workshop and Museum Friday to see Kara Walker’s performance, “Fibbergibbet and Mumbo Jumbo: Kara E. Walker in Two Acts.”

Roberta had an inside view, while I looked via the live feed in the next room, so we had two different looks at what was going on. I can’t speak for how the inner-sanctum experience played, but maybe Roberta will weigh in.

Before the performance, I had been inside and gotten a good look at the installation–a mix of Walker’s silhouette wizardry, magic lanterns, video projections, electronic billboard with racial statements and aphorisms, a coffee-colored tent and coffee-colored landscape painting on a mud-colored backdrop for a stage.

The swampy feeling worked. Indeed, the installation was the strongest part of the event, but I couldn’t quite integrate its multiple elements into a unified piece of art.

The performance problems as they came through to me via the live feed, however, were major. The script was incomprehensible (not from a sound point of view but from a content point of view). Walker, dressed as a slave child, suddenly, without explanation, morphed into a pipe-smoking commentator. And who was that other actor supposed to be?

The words were plucked from slave narratives and filled with embarrassing (to me) stereotypes, but I couldn’t find where Walker was going with it or what the story was. The lines sounded like they were being read from a script, and by gum they were.

I found myself waiting for the justification of using such loaded material, waiting for Walker to skewer it the way her visual work until now has consistently skewered the stereotypes of the past. It never happened.

Part of the way through, Walker lost her audience altogether, and then the sound was lost beneath the chattering and people getting up to leave. I never saw the second act.

This is the first time that Walker’s work has not totally impressed me. I find it hard to believe that the second act would have been good enough to overcome the failings of the first and pull everything together.

I’m sorry to report, this ambitious venture seemed to be a lot of mumbo jumbo.