‘A Subtlety’, also known as the ‘Marvellous Sugar Baby’, is a monumental sculpture of a sphinx-like woman by artist Kara Walker. The enormous crouching figure is a dazzling white and wears a kerchief around her head. The work is the artist’s first public art project and is a collaboration with Creative Time, a non-profit arts organisation in New York. The piece was first installed in the Domino Sugar Refining Plant in New York in 2014. The plant was once the world’s largest sugar factory and the piece references the history of slavery in the production of sugar. ‘A Subtlety’ refers to sculpted sugar treats which were commonly served to guests during aristocratic banquets in Medieval Europe. The sculpture is also based on racist, stereotyped and overly sexualised imagery of black women. Walker expertly references race, sexuality, slavery and inequality while creating a visually alluring artwork. The whiteness of the sugar-coated sculpture contrasts sharply with its racist source material and the darkened interior of the factory. The effect is both striking and compelling. The vast warehouse space is dotted with sugar-sculpted children carrying baskets with sweets. ‘A Subtlety’ pays tribute to the workers and slaves who played a part in the production of sugar.
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