Sugar Is Not Always Sweet
Kara Walker in New York
||There is a sweet smell of decay. That is your first impression when you enter the Domino Sugar Factory.
Dark, sticky molasses, a by-product of sugar production, still covers
the walls of the factory on the bank of the East River in New York that
closed down in 2004. In this industrial cathedral – the building,
erected in 1882, was once the world’s largest sugar refinery – Kara Walker realized her first monumental project in a public space: a giant sphinx crouching at the end of one of the warehouses.
A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, as the work is titled, marks a new chapter in the oeuvre of the African-American artist. For Creative Time,
a non-profit organization that since 1973 has enabled thousands of art
projects to be put in public spaces, she created her first large
sculptural installation. Walker, to whom an entire floor of the Deutsche Bank
Towers is devoted with works on paper by the artist on display, became
known for her subversive silhouettes which repeatedly confront the
viewer with racist and sexist stereotypes. Full of rage and humor and
very obsessively, the artist (who was born in 1969) investigates the
fluid transitions between suppression and lustful subjugation, between
power and powerlessness, between perpetrators and victims. Back in
2002, the Deutsche Guggenheim, today the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, presented provocative works by Walker in Germany for the first time in a large-scale exhibition.
sphinx has the facial features of an African-American woman but is
bright white: the sculpture is covered with 160,000 pounds of sugar.
The Aunt Jemima kerchief recalls cliché pictures of black cooks or
servants – “mammies” who took care of white families. The nakedness of
the “Marvelous Sugar Baby,” on the other hand, alludes to stereotypical
portrayals of black women as sex objects. At the same time, the
imposing figure has the aura of an archaic divinity. Additionally,
Walker refers to the history of sugar. Once a precious luxury good, it
increasingly became a bulk article. And one of the pillars of
transatlantic triangular trade. Africans were taken on slave ships to
sugarcane plantations in the Caribbean. The ships were loaded with
sugar and then set sail for Europe, before returning to Africa, where
fabrics and weapons were exchanged for slaves. As Kara Walker shows,
sugar can have a very bitter aftertaste.
Kara Walker – A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby
Domino Sugar Factory in