Sculpture in Scrubs

Jan 12, 2015
Sculpture teacher Kim Bernadas works with a plastic surgery student on her clay bust.
Tegan Wendland

Sculpture class on a recent Wednesday night at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts looked a bit like an operating room. The bright white studio was filled with med students in green and blue scrubs.

Kara Walker was barely out of art school when she won a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant, in 1997. Back then, her early work shocked audiences in part because her murals looked so charming from a distance. Black paper shadow portraits of colonial figures seemed to dance on white gallery walls; but lean in and you'd find your nose pressed up against images of slavery's horrors — mammies, masters, lynchings and sexual violence.