The Flood Last Time: ‘Muck’ and the uses of history in Kara Walker’s ‘Rumination’ on Katrina

Michael Bibler

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Kara Walker describes her book After the Deluge (2007) as “rumination” on Hurricane Katrina structured in the form of a “visual essay.” The book combines Walker's own artwork and the works of other artists into “a narrative of fluid symbols” in which the overarching analogy of “murky, toxic waters” holds the potential to “become the amniotic fluid of a potentially new and difficult birth.” This essay considers Walker's use of history within this collection of images to show how the book opens up ways to interrogate Katrina's particular significance as a wholly new, and yet eerily familiar, historical “event.” Nuancing a reading of Walker's book with reference to James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time (1963), to which After the Deluge implicitly alludes, the essay examines Walker's artistic challenge to the notion that history is a narratable account of a past that precedes the present and demonstrates how that challenge encourages us to think about the potential uses of history within civil rights discourse after Katrina.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503-518
JournalJournal of American Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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