The public art organization Creative Time joined forces with Kara Walker to create her first large-scale project on view in the industrial relic of Williamsburg’s 90,000-square-foot Domino Sugar Factory. Kara Walker is best known for her black stencils of antebellum scenes that critique Civil War-era ethics.
Ripe with gallows humor, “A Subtlety: or the Marvelous Sugar Baby” tackles the powerful topic of race politics. The installation is homage to the unpaid and overworked laborers who refined sugar in the factory from its conception in 1856 to its closure in 2004.
At times taboo and sexually charged, this provocative installation investigates the history of the Domino Sugar Factory through age-old racial tropes. This conceptual critique is manifested through a physical installation of a 35-foot-tall, 75-foot-long Sphinx-Mammy hybrid surrounded by children attendants, all created from sugar and molasses.
The hybrid sugar sphinx is a combination of racist black women stereotypes. Her head is a kerchief-wearing “Mammy,” whose jolly persona lived to please the domestic needs of wealthy white families. Her body is the erogenous “Jezebel” with her prominent breasts, buttocks and female sexuality on display. With sullen faces carrying weaved baskets, the molasses-covered attendants recall the historical socioeconomic gap between white and black culture. To give a scale of the gargantuan size of the installation, the children are the height of an average adult.
This installation is the last before the factory’s demolition. In March 2014, the City Planning Commission approved plans for the $1.5 billion redevelopment of the refinery on the Brooklyn waterfront. The site will be replaced with office spaces, market-rate and affordable housing, retail and community facilities. Sixty percent more public space will connect the neighborhood to the waterfront in effort to create a modern Brooklyn Skyline.
If you go
‘A Subtlety: or the Marvelous Sugar Baby’
Through July 6
Domino Sugar Factory
South First Street at Kent Avenue
Fridays: 4-8 p.m.
Saturdays and Sundays: Noon-6 p.m.