Carla issue 24

Page 20

Zombie(s in Candy)land

Sula Bermúdez-Silverman’s Sugar and Salt


In February, FLOTUS Jill Biden fes­ tooned the White House’s North Lawn with giant Valentine’s Day hearts in pink, white, and red, reminiscent of candy hearts but plastered instead with words like “unity,” “family,” and “compassion.” A fleshy-pink plea for unity is, strictly speaking, conservative. It is the sugary coating that, for liberals and the like, posits Biden’s inauguration as a sweet promise and distracts them from the astringent core of the candy heart: what is unity without equality? (On the other side of the dystopic coin, no different in its decadent flaunting of U.S. imperialism, is former FLOTUS Melania Trump’s militant Christmas decorations: placenta-­­red trees lining an East Wing hallway of the White House). Since February, I have been wondering whether this image of candy hearts crystallizes my pre-pandemic idea that we most likely live in a type of Candyland. I am alluding to the race to reach the finish: in this case, the White House, with the pandemic instigating a particle accelerator-like dash toward autocratic technocracy and heightened U.S. imperialism, obfuscated by bittersweet pleas for safety. The proletariat, in turn, are merely pawns in an accelerated race that ends in the merging of corporate and state power. The aestheticizing disguise of the White House via FLOTUS’ décor suggests that, as philosopher Walter Benjamin forewarned: “the logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.”¹ The primary ingredient in both Biden’s décor and the child’s board game, candy—or sugar—is also inherently a seminal capitalist, colonial

stephanie mei huang

project with its roots in the Caribbean (hence its designation as the “sugar revolution”).² As a highly sought-after monoculture, 17th- and 18th-century sugar production singlehandedly expedited the plantation complex, the Atlantic slave trade, white colonization, and the commerce industry. I thought of this as I strolled through the quiet corridors of Sula Bermúdez-Silverman’s lane of sugary architecture at the California African American Museum (CAAM). The dimly lit gallery of Neither Fish, Flesh, nor Fowl, Sula’s first solo museum exhibition in Los Angeles, was illuminated by the candy-pink glow of 10 life-size dollhouses—one made from glass, and nine cast in sugar from her childhood dollhouse. However, unlike the deceptive opacity of the festive blending of politic and aesthetic spearheaded by the aforementioned first ladies, Bermúdez-Silverman’s candied dollhouses have a viscous translucency to them. Hardened simple syrup radiates a bioluminescent glow, making these houses look like organisms of the deep sea. Bermúdez-Silverman, who is of Afro-Puerto Rican and Jewish descent, uses sugar as both a nod to her ancestors who worked on sugarcane plantations in Puerto Rico and the larger legacy of sugar as a major commodity of early colonialist capitalism in the Caribbean economy. Sugary façades have oft been utilized as ornaments of obfuscation, concealment, or political appeasement (like Biden, adorning hard architectures of power with a saccharine sweetness), but Bermúdez-Silverman uses sugar to expose the very architecture of obfuscation itself by allowing us to peer inside the hollow, translucent center of her sugary façades. Her use of sugar and light marry to become literal and metaphorical lighthouses, illuminating the otherwise invisible architectural nexus of neocolonialism, capitalist cultural exchange, and the hyper-whiteness of popular culture. In the year since her show opened at CAAM, Bermúdez-Silverman has continued to expand upon her investigation of sugar and illumination. In her most recent show, Sighs and Leers and Crocodile Tears at Murmurs, the