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We Are Here:Black Women Claim Their Space at Kara Walker’s Controversial Sugar Sphinx Show

“We are here.” 

That is what many visitors aimed to demonstrate during a meetup at Kara Walker latest art installation “A Subtlety” on a recent Sunday in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Meetup participants, many of whom were Black women, peppered the very long queue to the exhibition. Enthusiastic event volunteers passed out information pamphlets and black, rectangular stickers that read “We Are Here.” Familiar faces were frequently spotted, invited to avoid the wait and cut the line.

And, finally, there she was in all her refined glory. Stationed inside the legendary Domino Factory and surrounded by crumbling candy boys, Walker’s gigantic sugar sculpture Marvelous Sugar Baby has triggered a wide range of responses since its May unveiling.

“Invite your friends—and your friends’ friends—so that we can experience this space as the majority,” the “We Are Here” Facebook event page stated. “Let us gather to experience this important work, together.”

Shocked by the exhibition’s disproportionately White crowds and irritated by what they considered to be crude reactions to Walker’s work, New York-based artists Ariana Allensworth, Salome Asega, Taja Cheek, Sable Elyse Smith and Nadia Williams were eager to organize a gathering for people of color. More than 1,000 Facebook RSVPs confirmed that they were not alone.

“The purpose here was to shift the dialogue from spectacle experience and inappropriate visitor interactions to a critical dialogue about the work itself, which would then evolve into larger conversations about history, labor, commodification,  visual politics [and more,]” Smith told EBONY.com.

“A few people mentioned that having that tone set made it easier to move through the space and set an expectation of respect or thoughtfulness.”

She also mentioned having met a large number of White people who “seemed to understand the importance of our gathering.”

“The last thing, and probably most important, is that the dialogue and engagement has not ended,” Smith said. “New communities were formed and a fire has been sparked in people.”

For more information on the “We Are Here” meetup, visit the event page.

-Patrice Peck

“A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby” is open through July 6, Fridays 4-8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays noon to 6 p.m. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY.

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