” A Subtlety,” a collaboration between Creative Time and artist Kara Walker, can only be described as bittersweet. I was lucky enough to hear Kara speak at a lecture at Pratt not too long ago. Her work is an exploration of racial identity, gender, and sexuality. Her most notable work is life size/room size silhouettes depicting racial tensions in the South. Her work is unapologetic, raw, in your face but with a beauty, and dare I say whimsical. A dark whimsy that sticks to the heart. Located on the East River in Williamsburg Brooklyn, the Domino Sugar Refinery was built-in 1856. Ships of sugar cane from all over the world arrived at the plant, and by 1870 more than half of the sugar consumed in the entire country was refined there. In 2004 the Refinery stopped operation, but became a beloved historic marker to be gazed upon by all those who came to see New York City. Historic Preservation has become a quickly heated debate surround contemporary New York City. There is a desire to hang on to and preserve the past but also a pressure to be new and innovative. Unfortunately the Refinery has gotten hit in the crossfire. In March, it was approved that the Refinery would be turned into affordable housing reaching up to 55 stories. No longer can the public enjoy the East River Side views and literally smell the history of the Refinery.
The devastation of losing the landmark sparked an opportunity of magic. Despite groups advocating to “Save Domino,” the decision has been made so why not send off this beloved treasure with a bang. The combination of Kara Walker’s art and the demolition of the Refinery is bringing in crowds by the droves to say goodbye and to pay homage to a slice of history.
The artist statement reads, “At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected: A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the can fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.”
Constructed entirely of sugar this exhibition is haunting beautiful. The aroma of sugar hits you instantly. Burned statues of children carrying baskets and sugar canes allow an emotional connection to be made from a time that has easily been forgotten. The Sphinx which is the largest piece of pure white sugar is an act of immortalizing a dark time in our countries’ history.
At the moment, I am still recovering and letting the message sink in. I do not wish to write more as it may overwhelm and influence the viewer. Everyone will make their own interpretations. To those who will not be able to see the work in person I hope you are able to see more pictures online so that we can all share in the discussion. The job of an artist is to initiate discussion on topic that some may shy away from. This work is no different. I saw the exhibition with a friend and we could not stop talking, about the implications of race not only in the past but the present and our own experiences with race, from the moment we walked in to the platform of L train going home. It is vital that we discuss such topics if change is to happen. Though I haven’t lived in Brooklyn for long I am proud that I was able to witness the bittersweet ending to the Domino Sugar Refinery.
For more information and a look at how the statues were constructed check out the website http://creativetime.org/projects/karawalker/