The artist was born in Stockton, California and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. She graduated from the Atlanta College of Art in 1991 and received her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994. She is the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Achievement Award (1997), the Deutsche Bank Prize (2004), and the Larry Aldrich Award (2005).
Walker’s works have been exhibited internationally in numerous group and solo shows. Her recent survey, My Compliment, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love, opened at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in February 2007 and traveled to the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles; and the Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth. This exhibition notably combined visual and quasi-literary modes, creating historical tales about the creation of “African-America” that also suggest present and future eras. As the artist told David D’Arcy (Modern Painters, April 2006):
“I don’t know how much I believe in redemptive stories, even though people want them and strive for them. They’re satisfied with stories of triumph over evil, but then triumph is a dead end. Triumph never sits still. Life goes on. People forget and make mistakes. Heroes are not completely pure, and villains aren’t purely evil ... whatever narratives people use to construct a group identity and to keep themselves whole—such activity has a darker side to it, since it allows people to lash out at whoever’s not in the group. That’s a contact thread that flummoxes me.”