A Subtlety

Recently, we attended an exhibit that had opened in the cavernous Domino Sugar Refinery in Williamsburg, currently and actively being demolished. “A Subtlety” was anything but. Conceived by the artist Kara Walker, this massive, temporary installation pressed hot button elements that have lived in our culture as far back as human time. At 75 feet long and 35 feet high, it sat within the actual sugar warehouse that still bore the viscous molasses coating on the walls, refusing to be power washed away.

It's sphinxlike, quite anatomically correct presence spoke loudly to the racist stereotypes that the physical sugar coating (Domino, of course) only seemed to enhance. Scattered around the rest of the space were molasses sugar-baby boys carrying bananas and baskets of sweets, all with melting rivulets of sugar sweat running off of their bodies. Entering the historic warehouse built in 1856 which, at one time, was responsible for producing more than half of the sugar sold in the United States, was like stepping into another era of old New York.

Add to that the magnificent super-sugar sculpture regally presiding over the center of the space with her attendant minions, and the experience became almost surreal in nature. Both "A Subtlety" and the Domino Sugar Refinery are gone now, but, as with all great art, the message lingers.

Find out more about the artist: Kara Walker

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