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.


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