Kara Walker. You either love her work. Hate her work. Or, love to hate her work. Known for her large-scale silhouettes, that quite literally fill a room, Ms. Walker was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1997 when she was 28 years old. The silhouettes have been variously described as stunning, charming, exquisite, magnetic, graphic, violent, racially charged. To me, they are provocative, “exploring controversial themes of race, gender, sexuality, and violence” that some may find uncomfortable.
Ms. Walker is in the news of late because of her just completed, first-time, public art project at the soon to be demolished Domino sugar factor in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Presented by Creative Time, “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” is hard to describe! (And, yes that is the complete title!) It is a towering figure sculpted in sugar. Roberta Smith describes it in the New York Times as a “…woman-sphinx with undeniably black features and wearing only an Aunt Jemima kerchief and earrings, it is beautiful, brazen and disturbing, and above all a densely layered statement that both indicts and pays tribute.” The sculpture will be on view through July 6, 2014.
Tonight, Ms. Walker will be in conversation with Jad Abumrad, the host and creator of Radiolab, at the New York Public Library. Their conversation “will explore the history and meaning of sugar…and the route of the triangle trade, from Africa to America, from ancient monuments to modern appetites, from behemoth, crumbling temples of industry to the laborers and slaves often unseen in those histories. It’s a history of sugar, sex, sweetness, power, and the secret mystery at the center of the exhibition.” You can livestream the conversation at 7:00 p.m.
More about “A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby:”
- 4/27/2014, New York Times, Rarely One for Sugarcoating: Kara Walker Creates a Confection at the Domino Refinery.
- 5/12/2014, Food and Wine, Artist Kara Walker Builds a Provocative Shrine to Sugar in Brooklyn. Also, check out the slide show documenting the creation: Inside Kara Walker’s Art Exhibit at the Domino Sugar Factory.
- 5/15/2014, The Grio, Kara Walker’s New Exhibit Explores the Politics of the Black Female Body.
- 5/16/2014, NPR, Artist Kara Walker Draws Us Into Bitter History With Something Sweet.
More about Kara Walker:
A Wikipedia entry includes a list of selected and solo exhibitions, recommended readings and links to more information. Also check out the Art of Kara Walker at the Walker Art Center and on PBS’ Art21.