Kara Walker Exhibition

IMG_3918Words and Photographs by Lucy Willoughby

Along the waterfront on the south side of Williamsburg, sits the disused Domino Sugar factory. Soon to be demolished, this factory space was just waiting to be used for something amazing. Enter Kara Walker, an artists with a voice, and a big voice at that. Brooklyn based Walker, who is known for using racists, sexual and violent imagery within her work, has used the space, with the support of funders Creative Time for her first sculpture exhibition “A Subtlety”.

The initial impact on entering the factory is the smell of sugar, it was not so much sweet but pungent and the high walls were covered in molasses from years of sugar production. Almost immediately you are drawn to the huge sculptor of a mutated sphinx like creature, covered in white sugar. The head is that of a black woman wearing a head kerchief, representing the female household staff of white families in the Antebellum South era. The body is an over sexualized black woman, voluptuous breast, huge backside and genitals visibly protruding. Surrounded by the controversial sculptor were a number of smaller figures, which instead of white sugar were made out of sticky looking caramel. These “sugar babies” were scattered around the factory floor holding sugarcane baskets creating another conversation on the sugar trade. This combination of “sugar mother” and her “babies” created an even bigger statement on areas of slavery, sexualisation and racism.

For me the smaller sculptures had more of an impact. I visited the exhibition on its closing day and by this point some of these sculptures had started to melt in the heat, slowly crumbling to the ground, leaving a puddle of melted sugar around the dissolved sculpture. As my shoes were sticking to the sugar on the ground this representation of child labour in the sugar industry was more touching than the outrageous sculpture sat behind them. When speaking to one of the exhibition volunteers he explained that the fact some of the smaller sculptures were melted was not pre conceived but always a possibility. Was this an accidental metaphor for the use of children in such industries?

Walker touches on so many ideas in this exhibitions it was almost overwhelming and I’m sure other viewers, like myself focused in on or were impacted by one in particular. Although the exhibition has now ended, and soon there will be no evidence left once the factory is demolished, Walkers messaged will be ingrained in New Yorkers minds as they eagerly await what she will do next.

Find out more about Kara Walker, the exhibition and it’s influences at www.creativetime.org

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