Friday, July 11, 2014

Sugarless in Brooklyn: Artist Kara Walker's Farewell to the Domino Sugar Factory

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of a private tour of Kara Walker's Subtlety exhibit at the soon to be knocked down Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn. 

The exhibit ended this past weekend. The building will be replaced with a waterfront park.
I will especially miss the nostalgic view of the factory when crossing the Williamsburg bridge.

Since it's premiere in May over 130,000 people have viewed these sculptures, three of which were Beyonce, Jay-Z and little Blue Ivy. Domino donated 80 tons of sugar. About half was used for the creation of these glorious sculptures fashioned as a tribute to generations of sugar workers.

Produced by Creative Time, the same organization that commissioned Tribute in Light, the twin beacons of light that illuminated lower Manhattan six months after 9/11, the exhibit was located in what used to be the raw sugar warehouse. 

Upon entering the building one is hit with the surprisingly strong, pleasant smell of molasses and caramel. The aroma permeates every corner of this enormous beautiful space. The now famous sugar coated Mammy Sphinx rests on one end. Once you see her, one realizes not even a space this size can contain her power.

Rich in symbolism, controversy and politics, over the last few months the Mammy sphinx has generated all sorts of debate both positive and negative and been called everything from "triumphant" to "Cleopatra as Worker" to "resembling a blaxploitation star". The fiercely talented Ms. Walker has certainly done her job provoking radically different responses is the result of great art.

The sphinx's left hand is formed into a figa which has many meanings, fertility and "F@#k You"  among them. The view of her back end reveals a voluptuous posterior cradling a pronounced vulva.

Scattered around the rest of the space and leading up to the Mammy Sphinx are sculptures of slave children. Some are made out of molasses coated resin and others are made totally of molasses.

Many of these made from molasses boys have melted into the floor creating new, even more disturbing figures reminding one of the decimation of children exploited for labor.

It was an incredible and special experience to be alone in this place (there were just two of us covering the exhibit for Citizen Brooklyn) but I also would have liked to returned to see the sculptures among a crowd to eavesdrop on other people's reactions.

One part of the complex is slated to be renovated for housing and the rest will be bulldozed to make room for the waterfront park and "mixed use"  which most likely means Starbucks and other chain stores. Ugh.

It is beyond tragic they can't save this unique sweet smelling space, even to use for events and conferences. 

The warehouse is covered with rich textures on the walls and floors, some due to the sugar, some to the graceful aging of the building.

Molasses drips from the walls, puddling and staining the floors.

Columns as well, where sugar is piled around the edges.

According to Creative Time's curatorial statement, the factory was Built by the Havemeyer family in 1856, by 1870 it was refining more than half of the sugar in the United States, producing over 1,200 tons every day. Now it will be just a sweet memory. I'm still mad at myself I didn't take the once in a lifetime opportunity to lick a wall. 

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