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Kara Walker’s A Subtlety

Controversial sugar sculpture is world's largest "Aunt Jemima"

A controversial new work from Kara Walker depicts a 75 foot Mammie made from sugar.

Kara Walker is best known for her room-size tableaux of black cut-paper silhouettes arranged on white walls and set in the ante­bellum American South. The contrast between the delicacy of the figures and the depravities of the behaviour they are engaged in, scenes of unimaginable cruelty depicted with bacchanalian abandon, is what gives much of her art its power. For her latest work—a massive sculptural installation opening this week at the disused Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn—she is exploring America’s racial history in a radically different style.

The new piece, A Subtlety, has been commissioned by the public art organization Creative Time. Its scale is unprecedented for the artist—the ­central figure is 75.5ft long, 35.5ft high and 26ft wide. The work is mostly made out of sugar and comprises a series of figures, including 15 servants bearing empty baskets and bananas. These boyish slaves are moving towards a giantess at the centre of the piece, naked except for a Black Mammie headscarf. Her sphinx-like physique is exaggeratedly feminine. “I was thinking about sugar and the associations with desire,” explains the artist.

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