Black Art, White Patrons

The Overwhelming Whiteness of Black Art

Jamilah King writes on the “unsettling” experience of consuming racially charged Black art while surrounded by a predominately White audience. 

If you go to Kara Walker’s new exhibit, “A Subtlety,” at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, a lot will overwhelm you. You’ll likely wait outside in a line that snakes down Kent Street, across from rowhouses that were once owned by Puerto Rican families and now fetch millions. You’ll sign a waiver absolving the show’s curators of legal responsibility for the asbestos and lead that you’ll inhale while you’re in the dilapidated 158-year old factory. And, once inside, you’ll see at least a dozen “sugar babies” made of molasses and resin—molds of Black children literally melting before your eyes. You’ll smell the molasses as you walk through the exhibit anchored by a 35-foot tall sphinx made of what the artist has called “blood sugar” and sculpted into the shape of a naked mammy. You’ll also see White people. Lots of White people.

This is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s reassuring that so many White people have a vested — or at least passing — interest in consuming art that deals with race. At the same time I found it unsettling to view art by a Black artist about racism in an audience that’s mostly White. It reinforced the idea that Black people’s histories are best viewed but not physically experienced.

Newsletter

Sign up for the EBONY Newsletter

By subscribing, you agree to share your email address with EBONY to receive our weekly emails, events, and other updates. Please see our privacy policy for more information.

By subscribing, you agree to share your email address with EBONY to receive our weekly emails, events, and other updates. Please see our privacy policy for more information.

Newsletter

Sign up for the EBONY Newsletter

When you sign up for the EBONY newsletter, you’ll be the first to know about all the latest news and updates that are important to you. Gain access to exclusive interviews, videos, special events, and product giveaways delivered right to your inbox!

By subscribing, you agree to share your email address with EBONY to receive our weekly emails, events, and other updates. Please see our privacy policy for more information.