Tag Archives: a subtlety

Week Seven: Kara Walker’s A Subtlety

This week’s reading kept reminding me of the artist Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby” , which is “a 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.” Consisting of a massive, sugar-coated sphinx-like woman and a number of figures of small boys made of molasses holding heavy baskets, the work has provoked much discussion about selfie culture, race, and sexism.

Many art critic’s have praised the work for it’s powerful message which Cait Munro says, “meant to serve as a commentary on the sugar cane trade, and a cultural critique of slavery and perceptions of black women throughout history, the work is part Sphinx, part racist Mammy stereotype, and is coated in sugar. It features exaggerated features including breasts, a bottom, and a vagina. As Walker told artnet News, ‘Nudity is a thing, apparently, that people have a problem with; not slavery, or racism, but female bodies, or bottoms.’” This can be seen from the incredible number of tasteless Instagram photos that can be found under the hashtag #KaraWalkerDomino. Many critics were deeply offended by the inappropriate selfies, and as Yesha Callahan of The Root writes, “History has shown us time and time again how a black woman’s body was (and sometimes still is) objectified. From the days of the slave trade to even having black butts on display in music videos, the black woman’s body seems to easily garner laughs and mockery, even if it’s made out of sugar.” While many people agreed that these Instagram photos could be seen as such, Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post writes, “If we reveal ourselves to be corrupted, immature or unprepared at ‘A Subtlety,’ the exhibit itself reaches back to corrupt us, too. You can get very close, and even touch the statues, but you do so at cost. To look inside a basket, to pose with a small figure or to try to ascertain the outline of an eye or mouth under dripping, molding sugar, you have to step in the zone of the statues’ ruin.” I feel like the discussion surrounding Walker’s work, especially due to it’s popularity on social media, definitely highlights many aspects of this week’s readings in regards to race, and starts a crucial online and offline discussion.

Check here for more interesting reactions to the work: