Monday, 7 July 2014

Goodbye to independence day

The brilliant Kara Walker exhibit at the abandoned Domino Sugar Factory on the Brooklyn waterfront closed yesterday, and I’m a bit sorry I didn’t go back to see it a second time over the July 4 weekend. The main holiday celebrating liberty and freedom is certainly a great occasion to be reminded of our slave history.
Walker called her installation “A Subtlety,” which is pretty hilarious given that the main piece was a 30-foot-tall sugar-coated statue of a slave mammy. And yet there were elements that seemed to escape viewers entirely.

The cavernous space, which once thrived on the labors of millions of doomed slaves in the Caribbean and Brazil (where the death rate among laborers was so appalling that slaves preferred the tender mercies of U.S. plantation life), is now empty except for a few rusty pieces of equipment.
Scattered throughout the hall on a more accessible scale were eerie slave boy sculptures made of molasses, which were slowly melting in the heat.

Some commentators have raised objections to the insensitive behavior of tourists snapping yuk-yuk selfies at the rear of the mammy, which prominently displays her massive vulva. But as all art students know (and this city’s full of them), how we react to a piece reveals us as much as the work. Some people thought slave women’s sexual availability was a big joke back then. ‘A Subtlety’ demonstrates it.

One approaches the sphinx-like mammy from a distance, and with all the cellphone cameras clicking away, . . .
it looked to me as if the entrants were raising their arms in worship.

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