Like bees to honey, people have been swarming to Kara Walker's jaw-dropping sugar sculpture, A Subtlety, at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn since May. My adventuresome mother and I buzzed up the Garden State Parkway from the Jersey Shore to NYC to check it out on my recent visit to the US.
After a two-hour drive and one-hour wait, our efforts were worth it. Words and images don't do the installation justice. The work encompasses a 35' H x 75' L sugared sphinx, with the head of a kerchief-wearing mammy and body of an overly sexualized black woman. She is preceded by 15 five-foot molasses boys carrying baskets of unrefined sugar.
As we walked around the installation, I couldn't stop admiring the audacity of the work. In one fell swoop, Walker unflinchingly addresses racism, sexism, slavery, capitalism, hypocrisy, power, oppression, addiction, and more. She discusses the project here, in an excellent video by PBS' art21:
Much has been written about the project, as well as the politics and controversy behind it. People have been taking (sadly) inappropriate selfies in front of body parts, and there's fuss about how the actual sugar for the project was sourced.
But it's because of Walker's installation that people are talking about these things. The conversations that Mom and I had and overheard while waiting in line, inside the warehouse, and well after we left have been testament to the power of art to awaken and move each of us, if we allow ourselves to engage thoughtfully in something that makes us uncomfortable.
For more Kara Walker, including selected works, articles and related artists, check out her dedicated Artsy.net page here.