Controversial Giant Aunt Jemima Sugar Sculpture
In late spring of 2014, Creative Time presented the first large-scale public project by Kara Walker, one of the most important artists of our era. Sited in the sprawling industrial relics of Brooklyn’s legendary Domino Sugar Factory.
The Art Newspaper: Sculpture artist/boundary-pusher, Kara Walker, uses art as a medium to expose the atrocities committed in the antebellum American South against African Americans. Her latest work is on display at the abandoned Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn. The piece is called A Subtletly, however it's anything but. At 75-ft long and 35-ft high and 26-ft wide, it's a mammoth critique on the detestable and dehumanizing history of slavery.
The work is mostly made out of sugar and comprises a series of figures, including 15 servants bearing empty baskets and bananas. These boyish slaves are moving towards a giantess at the center of the piece, naked except for a Black Mammie headscarf. Her sphinxlike physique is exaggeratedly feminine. "I was thinking about sugar and the associations with desire," explains the artist.
Walker needed to remove a six-inch layer of molasses before she could start work on the sculpture. The factory itself has a storied past: It was once the world's largest sugar refinery and one of the first companies listed on the Dow Jones.
The sugar trade created a triangular economy: slaves were sold from Africa to the Americas; sugar to New England; and then rum made from molasses was sold back to Africa. "Sugar brought about a new kind of world structure: diets changed, the way business was done changed, there was a rise of the importation of enslaved Africans," Walker says. The full title of the installation makes this history explicit: 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.