You may have seen images of or heard about Kara Walker’s epic 2014 work A Subtlety that she made for Creative Time in the remnants of the Domino Sugar Factory on Brooklyn. The work is an immense sugar-coated sphinx that responds to the racially charged labor-history of the factory.
In conceiving of this work, Walker made a series of sketches, diagrams and collages, which you can see in the Creative Time project website. A couple of the sketches show the gigantic sculpture surrounded by obelisks, while other collages highlight the monster as a female hybrid figure, but not only limited to her human mammy-head, but also in her rear (playing off stereotypes of oversexualized African American women). Finally, a collage and a diagram make it clear that the connection between sugar and slavery also includes the production of rum (or rhum), which also utilized racially charged stereotypes in its advertising. While the curatorial statement alludes to the Oedipus myth and the riddle of the sphinx, these sketches make it clear that Walker is thinking about the ancient Egyptian monument and, in some way, the ‘stolen legacy’ of ancient Egypt’s influence on Classical Greece and Rome, as much as on the history of slavery, plantations and the racist symbolization of advertising.