Why you shouldn’t make fun of Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety” exhibit
You know, I tried VERY hard to ignore the blatant ignorance that has been making its rounds around the interwebs regarding the legendary Kara Walker’s, “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby.” The exhibit takes an in-depth look at modern-day slavery in the early 20th century, particularly child labor and the affects of it on the black family.
Currently housed in a former Domino Sugar Refinery plant based in Brooklyn, I had the privilege of seeing A Subtlety first-hand while in New York a couple of weeks ago. It was absolutely AMAZING. But the experience did not come without its bulls***.
Alright, so everyone that visited the exhibit pretty much did two things: 1. took it all in 2. tagged photos uploaded to social media with the #karawalkerdomino hashtag. Now if you search for the latter on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you’ll find a blend of images from the experience, several that depict people clearly missing the point of the work.
and another one:
So disrespectful. But don’t let the silly images fool you. This exhibit was powerful and here’s why. First, when you approach the entrance, there is an immediate sense of actually realizing where you are. Of course we knew that the exhibit was in a refinery, but I’m speaking from a more visceral perspective.
As you walk along the path, you notice the sugar refinery and all of its flaws. It is as if the building had not been touched, and workers at the plant would show up any minute now. I actually FELT like a worker.
Once inside of the corridor, you’re overwhelmed with an immediate smell of sugar and syrup. As you enter the actual space where the exhibit is housed, there’s a mixture of what appears to be syrup subtly dripping from the walls of the refinery. Dispersed within the space leading up to the giant sugar statue, were little sugar boys, covered in syrup.
Below are some photos that I personally took and uploaded to my account, with descriptions of how the images made me feel:
An image of a sugar baby. His arm is broken and completely detached from its socket. The child is completely covered in syrup. My interpretation is that the artist is saying that children weren’t viewed as human beings, but as commodities, meant to produce sugar cane and profits. Their sole purpose.
This was provocative for so many reasons…the entire statue was made out of pure sugar for the most part. My interpretation was that the woman was viewed as less than human, as literally a human factory meant to produce little black sugar babies.
During the exhibit, I noticed that small children were running around, some climbing on top of the furniture. I also saw a nice amount of folks taking disrespectful pictures like the ones above. I tried to ignore it. While we cannot control others’ understanding and appreciation of artwork, especially when it pertains to child labor and slavery, it is our duty to inform the masses of its purpose.
Kara Walker’s A Subtlety runs through July 6. It’s free, and you can visit http://creativetime.org/projects/karawalker/ for more information.