On one particular Sunday a friend, Adriana, and I, find ourselves in a line spanning 12 blocks with many other people of color; donning our white t-shirts and “We Are Here” stickers that signified we were committed to experiencing together the Creative Time commissioned public art installation ‘A Subtlety or The Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant’ by Kara Walker. Right next to the coast of Brooklyn, as brown dots in a sea of whiteness, we entered the factory and were hit with the instant and sensational smell of molasses, as the factory walls were still covered in the sticky saccharinity. As we turned the corner we were met by the looming 35-foot tall sugar dusted black female bodyturned sphinx; sat in the middle of the room taking her rightful place as the subject, not the object. We walked around the candy models of small black boys who have melted into themselves, with baskets on their backs to host pieces that have completely broken away from the body, pieces that Kara herself visited weekly to pick up.
Large and brown much like us, Adriana and I take in the entire sugar baby. I noticed the darkening around her neck, in the lower arch of her back and the crease in-between her breasts from where she was starting to caramelise. Adriana noting the same thing turned to me and said: “She sweats everywhere I sweat.” Sugar -and its byproducts- was the white gold that spearheaded a third of Europe’s economy. Sugar cane harvest season saw enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and South America working 24-hours a day in sugar mills and boiling houses to process the crops, not without the horrifically common loss of hands and arms to the heavy-duty machines. For us to truly pay homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans we have to acknowledge the names and narratives of those we too easily forget. Names like, Carlota, a Cuban slave woman who raised her machete at the call of a drum circle and lead a rebellion on the Triumvirato sugar mill in 1843, that of course triggered other slave risings in the area.
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