My father used to ask me at the dinner table when I argued for racial equality: “If they’re equal, where are their great civilization, their great philosophers, their artists? At 18, I didn’t have an answer, but now I do. For artistic genius, I give you Kara Walker.
Walker, who received a Macarthur grant, is fearless in her condemnation of social and racial injustice. Her work has largely been two-dimensional, wall art, film or video—focusing on the cotton plantations of America’s romanticized antebellum south.
She addresses white fears of black potency, violence, shame, and resistance, and turns white Gone With the Wind fantasies on their heads and inside out. Her images are fierce, raunchy, defiant, grotesque, racially charged and satirical. She’s like an historian telling you a history you don’t want to hear.
Take a look.
Walker has a new piece, her largest. This time, she has gone three dimensional in a massive way, creating a Trojan Mammy for our time. “A Subtlety” is forty feet high and eighty feet long–eighty tons of white sugar.
Full title: 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
“The image” Walker says, “is about slavery and industry and sugar and fat…. This desire for refined sugar and what it means to turn sugar from brown to white…. She’s basically a New World sphinx. A New World thinking of the sugar plantations, the Americas, the trans-Atlantic slave trade…. We’re literally sugarcoating history.”
“The plant is dark…decades of molasses cover the entire space… and I wanted her to be a testament and monument to the quest for whiteness…whatever that means. Authority…on its last legs—this ideal of mastery over continents, people, bodies, ecology.”