"... so bitter wie der Geschmack von Heißen gerösteten Kaffeebohnen..." - Trauma, Medialität und Hautfarbe in Kara Walkers Safety Curtain der Staatsoper in Wien


  • Birgit Haehnel




Birgit Haehnel

"…and pungent as hot roasted coffee beans…” Trauma, Mediality, und Skin Color in Kara Walker's Safety Curtain in the Vienna State Opera House

The traumatic memories of slavery persist and become visible in the shaping of skin color in visual culture, for example. The African-American woman artist Kara Walker grappled with these themes that point to the denial of memory and history in Austria. With her large-scale picture covering the safety curtain at the Vienna State Opera House in 1998, she raised new questions about the interconnections between slavery, racism, and fascism. Walker's silhouettes are defined as a specific design to overcome traumatic experiences with history that are enclosed in the figuration of racial stereotypes. The crucial factor is the effect of the medium: The blank space of the silhouettes is a sublime sign and has the power to break up the traumatic patterns of denial, which are inherent in European visual representations of black-and-white body images. As effectively charged signs touching the spectators’ senses as well as their mental and emotional states, they are able to change thinking or rather cause changes in awareness through perception. This thought refers to Gilles Delueze's concept of the “encountered signs”, Sigmund Freud’s “Erinnerungsspuren” (traces of memory), and Aby Warburg's “Pathosformeln / mnemische Energien”. Finally, the (art) historical creation of meaning is stimulated by the artwork and then entrusted to the spectators.