The marvelous sugar baby. An homage to unpaid and overworked artisans who have refined our sweet tastes from the cane fields to the kitchen of the new world on the occasion of the demolition of the domino sugar refining plant. AKA: A Subtlety.
The title is apt, not just because it is a paragraph describing the intent, but because, in confectioners parlance, 'a subtlety' is a shaped sugar treat. A sugar baby is normally a woman, one who is kept by a sugar daddy. The arrangement is one of money for companionship. Let's be less subtle. A sugar baby is a product of a patriarchal society that sees a beautiful woman as an object to be paid for; sugar babies use this to their advantage.
The centerpiece is a giant sugar sphinx with Mammy's head. Aunt Jemima when the syrup has all been wrung from inside her. The show aims to explore the world of sugar, the triangle trade from Africa to America. Creative time calls it 'a conversation'. We are talking about slavery, racism, sexism and exploitation; those are the topics of conversation, but feel free to discuss any socio-economic ramifications of sugar production.
Who are these overworked and unpaid artisans? The slaves of the Caribbean. Who are these overworked and unpaid artisans? They are the cooks. Who are the overworked and unpaid artisans? They are the workers? Who are the overworked and unpaid artisans? They are the previous residents of Williamsburg.
Raw sugar is brown, bleached sugar is white. Sugar has been industrialized in the last 132 years, factories popped up to process the once rare and expensive treat into a commodity. Walker speaks about 'the desire for refined sugar and what it means to turn sugar from brown to white and how that dovetails into becoming American'. Built on the backs of the working poor Dominos made white, American sugar in the building on the East River. Dominos didn’t pay their workers enough, ever, but it took until 2000 to have a strike, and a 20 month one at that. Dominos shut the factory down. Now it will become overpriced housing, setting aside 660 units for 'affordable housing'. How far we have come.
Mammy's bleached white head looks down at the factory floor with a blank stare. Mammy has been bleached and sanitized, just as the factory will be sanitized and turned into housing that no one in the current neighborhood can afford. In a word: 'Gentrification'. Gentrification is racist. And to be clear, it is racism we are talking about.
Mammy has a vagina, no one wants to talk about it. The giant bleached sugar sphinx has a vagina and is probably paid about 30% less than other giant sphinx. The sphinx is unapologetically a woman. There should be more pictures of the vagina, photograph the sphinx from behind and see her 7 foot derriere and sugary vulva.
Some claim that the real war is the class war and the workers must unite against their common oppressor regardless of race, religion, or gender. This is a false metric and simply isn’t applicable in the United States. The struggle has to be viewed intersectionally. Mammy is a black working woman who will soon be removed from her home so that new apartments can be built – that's intersectional.
A Subtlety is beautiful. The Sphinx was resplendent in the under lighting, terrifying, commanding, glowing, dominating her room. Walker created a piece that was much more than just aesthetically pleasing, but that should not discount from the beauty - it was really very good art on all levels.
The opening was attended by everyone in the art world. They dined as a conveyer belt served mixed drinks. Then none other than inventor of breakbeat, pioneer of hip-hop, the original, the legendary head of the Zulu Nation himself Dj Afrika Bambaataa took control of the dance party. Its difficult to express how cool that was.
top photo credit The Artist; Kara Walker, and a subtlety of 'A Subtlety'