Kara Walker's sphinx like mammy looms over its viewer as a bittersweet reminder of a truth often forgotten. Sugar, one of the worlds' most obsessively consumed and consciously conflicting commodity, became so at the indubitably rich cost of slave labor. As indicated in the title and demonstrated in Walker's illustrious body of work, the sphinx is more than just a homage to the workers of the past, it is also a 'subtle' reminder of what haunts presently.
Decoding Walker's confectionary puzzle means resisting the urge to instagram a selfie between the sphinx's nipples or organize a group near the protuberance of her backside. Rather, one must consider that just a few days shy of Mother's Day, Walker's installation required viewers to walk past 12 'sugar babies', brown sugar coated boys standing 3 feet high and dripping past molasses. Holding baskets and retaining the look of innocence and youth, the boys are a reminder of the child labor and trafficking that continues to shadow commerce.
Upon arriving at the sphinx- mammy- mother, it is not only her size that contrasts the boys that precede her, but also her color. Glistening in white, her full lips, erect nipples, visible vulva and indefinite stare bows before its viewers demanding as many a sphinx before her that her ancient riddle be solved. Perhaps, when viewed through the Greek myth app she utters, "What does it mean to have a sexualized sculpture of a colored woman molded in white not brown sugar?" or "What is the significance in the position of my fingers that form my giant fists?"
The pairing of the Domino Sugar building and Kara Walker was a cleverly conscious commission by Creative Time. Yet, beyond the factory walls, another conversation continues to mill. The factory is an iconic marker for the ever changing Brooklyn neighborhood, Williamsburg. After Walker's exhibit closes on July 6th the once towering factory will eventually be shadowed by a massive housing compound. It will boasts a sprinkling of affordable housing, yet the potential 700 units cannot cut the sour taste of some of Williamsburg original inhabitants. In addition to losing Manhattan views and the once unofficial public viewing spot for 4th of July fireworks, the transformation of the Domino Sugar Building is a waving of white flags. The last remains of a once humble working class neighborhood refuge to Jewish, Latin and Afro Latino immigrants.
Kara Walker's installation is an opportunity to not only walk amongst the figures of the past but also contemplate how consumption continues to erect monuments to the devouring of cultures to satisfy an insatiable craving.
Kara Walker's A Subtlety, or The Marvelous Sugar Baby Installation is free to the public and open Friday through Sunday in Brooklyn New York from May 10th - July 6th. Visit the Creative Time website for details.