A Subtlety or The Marvelous Sugar Baby by Kara Walker


At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected:

Kara Walker - A Subtlety

or the Marvelous Sugar Baby
an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.


We are in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. An old Sugar factory, Domino Sugar Refinery, dated from 1882, a refinery that was producing sugar for nearly half of the entire Unites States, stands on the East River. The refinery stopped functioning in 2004. Nowadays it is a symbolic monument that it is about to be destroyed.
Visitors entering the enormous space will be greeted by a 35.5 feet high sphinx-like figure by well-known African-American artist, Kara Walker.
The sugar-coated sphinx will stand in the space for one more week.
“Watching Kara Walkerʼs work come to life in the unadorned, expansive space of the Domino factory, with its molasses covered walls and natural light, has been one of the most amazing aesthetic experiences I have had. We have long wanted to work with Kara, and are thrilled to have been able to provide the support she needed to create this groundbreaking new work. Creative Time commissions art that engages the critical issues of our day, and with A Subtlety we are proud to be presenting one that is certain to spark important conversations on topics including race, labor, power, and much more”. (Anne Pasternak, Creative Time President and Artistic Director).
Kara Walker, A Subtlety, 2014. Photography by Jason Wyche, Courtesy Creative Time
I have been following Kara Walker's work only in the recent years. Her silhouettes captured my attention with power. I found her work either strong and provocative. By looking at it, not one will keep a straight face.
In 2010, I have been completely fascinated by "8 Possible Beginnings or The Creation of African-America, a Moving Picture by Kara E. Walker", a 15 minutes film that has been included in the exhibition Afro Modern curated by Tanya Barson at Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea (CGAC) in Santiago (Spain). I watched the whole film few times.
Since then, I paid more attention to her work. Until few months ago, when the news and images of "The Marvelous Sugar Baby" enchanted me.
No more black, small, two-dimensional silhouettes on a white wall but an impressive, gigantic female, white, three-dimensional figure inside a dark, cavernous building.
As the subtitle of the work announces, the artwork is an "homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World" in fact once inside the huge warehouse, it is clear that the Sugar Baby is imbued of references and meanings. We can encompass all historical aspects of mythology and slavery from the ancient Greece and Egypt to the role of slavery and oppression in the sugar economy. Sugar was initially available only for the rich people and 'subtleties' were small sugar sculptures used as edible table-decorations. Years later, sugar arrived in every house but we cannot forget that behind there was essentially slavery. 
Kara Walker, A Subtlety, 2014. Photography by Jason Wyche, Courtesy Creative Time
Sphinxes in history are still a mystery. 
In Greek mythology, the Sphinx (head and breast of a woman and the rest of the body of a lion) was sent by the gods in Thebes to punish the people for some ancient crime. She killed all those who failed to solve her enigma. The Egyptian Sphinx is the figure of a lion-woman in a lying position.
Kara Walker's sphinx is a blooming and proud woman, big-breasted "mammy", completely naked apart from a head scarf. The artist said she was thinking of sugar and the associations with desire.
This work made me go back to memories of my childhood, the day I watched "Gone with the wind" for the first time with my mother. I was attracted by "Mammy", she was the strongest character, beautiful, wise and caring like only a mother could be. I wasn't conscientiously aware of slavery and history at that time. It was something we weren't thought in school yet. But still the huge gap between black and white people was something I couldn't understand.
The "mammy" is a Southern United States archetype for a black woman, used as such for long time. Walker here, by showing a racial stereotype, recalls and subverts the meaning.
The power of the empire was build especially on the work of "unpaid and overworked Artisans", men and women. Mammy is becoming a goddess and everyone now is paying her a visit.
The work is also completed by 15 little servants carrying empty baskets walking towards the sphinx.
Kara Walker' series of drawings, pages full of notes and sketches created while planning her installation at Domino.
I am imagining myself entering the cavernous hall, with many questions in my mind, while history, memories, images, debates are moving in different part of my brain and senses. Still thinking how the human being, this strange creature, is able to build beauty and horror at the same time.
So here I am... imagining to walk the hall, looking at the sphinx in the eyes. Perhaps she might ask me to solve a riddle like in the ancient times: "What has 4 legs in the morning, 2 at noon, and 3 at night?".
And like Oedipus, I could answer: "Man."
Kara Walker' series of drawings, pages full of notes and sketches created while planning her installation at Domino.
Kara Walker' series of drawings, pages full of notes and sketches created while planning her installation at Domino.
Kara Walker' series of drawings, pages full
of notes and sketches
created while planning her installation
at Domino.


Kara Walker' series of drawings, pages full
of notes and sketches
created while planning her installation
at Domino.
KARA WALKER
New York-based Kara Walker is best known for cut-paper silhouettes and tableaus that complicate traditional narratives of power and repression. Walker’s provocative work, which has taken the form of drawing, painting, text-based work, video, film, performance, and cyclorama, retells historic moments, such as slavery in the Antebellum South and Hurricane Katrina, and has frequently been the subject of controversy. She has received numerous awards, perhaps most notably in 1997, when she was the second-youngest person ever to receive a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant.”

ABOUT CREATIVE TIME
Since 1974, Creative Time has presented the most innovative art in the public realm. The New
York-based nonprofit arts organization has worked with thousands of artists to produce more than 335
groundbreaking public art projects that have ignited the public's imagination, explored ideas that
shape society, and engaged millions of people around the globe.

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