Kara Walker’s Gigantic Sugar-Coated Female Sphinx Makes A Powerful Statement

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Kara Walker’s new sculpture “A Subtlety” is pure white, coated in 160,000 pounds of bleached sugar; with this modern take on the ancient sphinx, the legendary artist crafts a towering black face in honor of the slave laborers who worked in sugar cane fields. The powerful work is meant to address racial and sexual exploitation; like the sugar that coats her polystyrene core, this black female figure has been pressured, against nature, into succumbing to whiteness.

The work is now on display at the old Williamsburg, Brooklyn Domino sugar factory shed, where it reaches to the ceiling and extends for a magnificent 75 feet. The mythical creature is a powerful assertion of the black female self; the face quite resembles the artists’ own, and a carefully wrought bandana subtly references the stereotypical (and often offensive) symbol of the mammy, a slave woman who nurtured and brought up white children. Walker has been the subject of debate in the past for her use of contested imagery, and despite the controversy surrounding the “mammy” figure, she is presented here as powerful and divine.

Like the ancient sphinxes of Egypt and Greece, Walker’s monolithic creation is godly, simultaneously fearsome and comforting. The sphinx, known for protecting the tombs of royalty, becomes the guardian of history, interrupting a white-washed historical narrative to make visible the labor of the men and women who were kept enslaved. Her face is serene, assured, and unyielding. The sphinx character, in addition to being a protector, is also dangerous, renowned for devouring those who cannot answer her riddle; Walker’s sphinx is similarly confrontational in her overwhelming size, forcing viewers to confront the complex and painful history of American industry. (via The New York Times)
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  • Pirate7X

    Wow…

  • guest

    That’s great except the people who made the sphinx weren’t slaves, they were paid labourers. And this thing is just ugly.