Art

The End of Sugar

We were left alone in this doomed, richly textured place to meet Kara Walker’s sculptures, created with the last tons of sugar that would ever exist in this space.

Story by Lora Wiley - lora@citizenbrooklyn.com Art by Kara Walker Photos by Luca Babini
Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

Upon entering the abandoned Domino sugar factory’s raw sugar warehouse, one is immediately overwhelmed by the aggressive smell. Caramel with notes of molasses. One of few remaining buildings of the complex, this space houses a unique aroma for a remarkable place. Probably one of the the last beautiful historical industrial architecture showcases in this city.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

Sugar residue clings everywhere, to the columns and floors, dripping down the walls creating fascinating textures. I was lulled into a sweet stupor by the smell and the dark, yet beautiful natural lit space until I came face to face with the now famous stunner of a sugar mammy sphinx and my jaw dropped. I had only seen the photos. Photos which could never do this monumental piece justice.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

Upon closer inspection, from every angle the deceivingly sugar coated mammy sphinx’s expression is fierce and defiant. Like she’s taking a last stand. Like she’s saying “I dare you” to obliterate this space. Like she’s saying, “One cannot destroy me or history with the demolition of this building.”

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

One of her hands is depicted as a fig sign which has many meanings but originates with the Greeks reference to fig, the fruit and to the vulva. It has been used to symbolize fertility, to repeal evil spirits and as the modern day vulgar version to the F word.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

Walker, an artist who specializes in “giddy discomfort” portrays here an obvious combination of racist and sexual imagery, woven around references to the sugar slave trade. Sculptures evoke what sugar has cost humans. The venue reminds us what gentrification and progress cost history.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

Although the exhibit is titled “A subtlety”, there is nothing subtle about the sphinx. From the frontal view of her enormous breasts to her lush rear end framing a gigantic vulva. According to the curatorial statement, “A Subtlety, refers to sugar sculptures that adorned aristocratic banquets in England and France the Middle Ages, when sugar was strictly a luxury commodity. These subtleties, which frequently represented people and events that sent political messages, were admired and then eaten by the guests. Perhaps Walker’s Subtlety is just a little less subtle.”

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

Studded throughout the rest of the warehouse are sculptures of slave boys holding baskets. A selection of the pieces are resin covered in molasses and some were created solely from sugar. Most of those have already melted into strange sticky sugar puddles, some with the heads intact. Each creating it’s own art piece and statement in disintegration. Pieces of the melted sculptures poke through the molasses pools ensconced in the baskets.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

The room itself is vast, richly textured with beautiful windows and columns. If re-purposed as an event space, one could easily imagine sleek film openings, hipster weddings and foodie festivals. In reality, shortly after the exhibition closes this weekend, development will bring the building to it’s knees and replace it with a waterfront park.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

In the last vestiges of old, scrappy, historically rich NYC, what are ruins and what are remains, remains to be seen.

The exhibition runs this weekend for the last time. Click here for hours and further information.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Luca Babini

 

2 Responses to “The End of Sugar”

  1. Samantha says:

    What a shame they’re demolishing this old refinery! They could have at least kept part of it as an art exhibition center, like the London Tate. The Kara Walker temporary show was certainly a very good example of the building’s potential for this. I understand money has to be made and it can’t just be an art complex, I’m fine with the idea of building condos there but why tearing down the whole complex that for sure we will regret very soon? Not to mention that condos next a NY version of the Tate would certainly be a lot more inspiring than these huge bulky buildings to be erected there and certainly command even higher prices, if money is what it all comes down to…Anyway, this is just my two cents here, but really what a shame!

  2. Icarus says:

    Dear Samantha, we could not agree more. But I don’t need to explain to you the politics of greed that have ruled this town for the past 20 years…