Artist Kara Walker’s popular new installation inside Williamsburg's Domino Sugar Factory not only recalls the torrid history of the sugar industry, but is also made of sugar itself. Entitled Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, the project for non-profit Creative Time features a larger-than-life sugar sphinx symbolizing the history of slavery in America. The controversial statue, which is surrounded by piles of sugar, is also joined by sculptures of children cast from molasses that will gradually melt during the exhibition’s duration into July.
Walker is known for her poignant works that expose issues of race and colonialism, often by using stereotypes as a way for her audience to relate to her message. For this exhibition, she has taken over Williamsburg’s Domino Sugar Refining Plant, an iconic structure built in 1882 and shut down in 2004. Creative Time has been staging artistic endeavors in the empty building as it awaits its redevelopment into a mixed-use waterfront residential complex.
The Sugar Sphinx is modeled after a caricature of an African-American woman and appears naked, crouching forward, and coated with sugar. Her enormous limbs are surrounded by masses of granulated sugar, which visitors can walk around as they admire her. Encircling the sculpture around the factory halls are other works, which has already begun to melt on opening day. The series of young boy figures, each holding baskets filled with paraphernalia related to sugar refinery, appear to be coated in dark molasses that gently drips in pools onto the factory floor.
Walker’s powerful pieces evoke the controversial history of sugar and its deep link to slavery in the US, as well as more modern issues such as corporate greed and unfair working conditions. The exhibition is free and open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through July 6, 2014.