Kara Walker: Thank you. RISD, family, President Somerson, distinguished faculty and guests and all. I am standing in front of you with…a blank piece of paper. And another blank piece of paper. And a sketchbook in which I wrote very little.
I came with the intention of speaking about my experience at RISD and wishing President Somerson a good tenure here, but all I could write on my sketchbook page was “blank page.” I wrote “tabula rasa.” I wrote “a clean slate.” And I wrote those words several times, and I realized as I was writing them that that’s how I arrived at RISD. I arrived here in 1992 with a full head of anxieties and ideas, and no real clear way of articulating them. And I had this mantra “blank page, tabula rasa.”
So, as artists we’re familiar with blank pages and empty canvases and kind of staring off into space without a clear idea exactly of what one is planning on doing but with an intention, like Jeanine suggested, an intention. Maybe a very ambitious intention of changing the world, or changing oneself, or changing this blank piece of paper into something. And I think in that ambition or in that goal is a great deal of optimism. And it’s an optimism that I feel is really necessary for the world. Even as we may be artists who are angry, and cynical, and bitter about the world, and perhaps we’re questioning and curious, that aliveness, the rage that sort of burns within us is optimism at its best. Because there’s a belief. And belief that you can do something, that you can change the world, that you can change your mind, that you can change the minds of other people, that you can change the way we see things, the way we do things, the way we make things, the way we are, the way we love, is the most important thing I can think of in the world. And RISD, I love coming back here because RISD is a place that nurtured that feeling in me, that possibility.
So, I just wanted to take this little bit of time and this series of blank pieces of paper to wish you well with the blank page before you. And to wish RISD well under President Somerson’s leadership. Thank you.