What has long been a hallmark in the midst of increasingly hirsute hipsters in Williamsburg is about the meet a sticky end. Domino’s, once the biggest sugar refinery in the world and a working colossus on the banks of the East River is about to be dismantled. The heritage facade will remain and luxury apartments will eventually grow in the voided historical space. But for a very short time, there is an opportunity to experience the genius of Kara Walker’s art in the contextual reality of the cavernous confectioner. If you are in NYC between now and July 6th, put this on the top of your list.
The smell of sugar as you enter the space is unmistakable and as your eyes adjust to focus on the looming bright white woman in the distance, suddenly the ghosts of children past merge out of the molasses. Beautiful little African boys laboring under overladen baskets or clusters of bananas appear to be melting before your eyes. Some are made of resin, others of sugar, and all somehow smiling, owning the space. The politics of enslavement interwoven with the sweetening appetite of the world are hauntingly presented in these replicas – the mould for which Kara bought on Amazon… in 2014….
There is sugar everywhere, powdery and stained on every surface, and sticky underfoot. Sugar binds the whole visual experience together, connecting the past with the present. The sugar sculptures that used to be part of refined society in medieval times suddenly morph into a giant sphinx, a sugar moma that takes your breathe away. She is huge, commanding and glistening. Thirty five tons of sugar were poured over her frame and moulded around her fabulous features. What a spectacular sight! The sugar factory may be gone, but the spirit of this woman will always be there. Kara Walker said “I really like the idea of the allegorical, mythological sphinx as this woman-like creature or guardian of the city, the keeper of the riddle, the devourer of heroes.”