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Collection Spotlight

Kara Walker, "National Archives Microfilm Publication M999 Roll 34"

Kara Walker
National Archives Microfilm Publication M999 Roll 34: Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands: Six Miles from Springfield on the Franklin Road, 2009
video, on DVD and digital beta master
purchased as the gift of Katherine and Stephen C. Sherrill (PA 1971)

On March 3, 1865, Congress passed the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill to assist African Americans with the transition from slavery to freedom. Intended to provide support to former slaves with employment, education, land, and medical and legal aid, and serve as a record of progress of the “freed man,” unfortunately the Bureau became a repository for accounts of the ongoing prejudice and atrocities experienced by freed men and women during Reconstruction. This recent film by Kara Walker takes its title and narrative from documents in the Bureau’s archive and uses her trademark cut-paper silhouettes to animate the disturbing story of an African American family. Controlled by the sticks and strings of their human operators, including the artist herself, the figures moving within a shadow puppet-like theater space remind us of the manipulation of historical oppression and the powerlessness of the oppressed while also emphasizing the theatricality of the film itself. Themes of race, gender, sexuality, and violence intersect and unfold on Kara Walker’s multi-colored stage.

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