Kara Walker, ‘A Subtlety’

The purpose of art is ambiguous – it can reflect tastes and be aesthetically pleasing to the eye, however beyond the visual representation there is meaning rooted in the canvas. Art provokes thought and acts as a platform for visionaries to proclaim issues and for viewers to look beyond the visual and contextualize the artist’s thoughts – you are not looking at a pretty artwork, but the issues that correlate to it.

One artist whose art acts as a mission statement is Kara Walker. Kara Walker has no fear and her freedom of canvas is overwhelming powerful. Walker’s work predominately focuses on race and gender issues. Her most recent exhibition, A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, situated in the Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, is a proclamation of issues effecting society’s past. The exhibition is a public artwork, which is cosponsored by the developer converting the factory into apartments. The exhibition’s centerpiece, a sphinx-like sculpture rising to about 35 feet, is sculpted entirely from sugar and is surrounded by small disintegrating sculptures of resin covered in molasses.

The Marvelous Sugar Baby pays homage to the slavery  and unpaid labour of sugar artisans who produced sugar that sat on the tables of the New World rich. The sculpture represents the blood sugar industry where workers put their life’s at risk to produce the sugar where the cane had to be fed into large mills all by hand, resulting in lost limbs, injuries and sometimes death. The exhibition is set in a grungy, abandoned warehouse, which is juxtaposed against the whiteness and pureness of the sculpture.  The space of the exhibition acts as a visual reminder of what the sculpture represents, however the darkness of the space exemplifies the brutality of the sugar industry. Placed inside the factory, the white sugar sculpture dwarfs viewers and affirms the powerful identity of the sugar factory workers. The exhibition proclaims something that no image can capture and is a must-see in person.

The exhibition is open till July 6th, where wait time can exceed 30 minutes.

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