“Why I Yelled at the Kara Walker Exhibit” (Revisited)

As a part of my personal mourning process for not being in New York to see this, I present one of the many circulating articles that takes issue with Walker’s monumentum piece. (original post: 7/8/14)


(Additional Comments 7/9/14):

After reading through Halberstam’s Bully Bloggers piece, “You are Triggering Me! The Neo-liberal Rhetoric of Harm, Danger and Trauma”, I have decided to revisit Nicholas Powers’ report on his experience at Kara Walker’s 40 foot installation at the Domino Sugar Factory.

My sentiments are as follows:

Although Nicholas Powers’ three-timed aggravated experience with the Kara Walker monumental sculptural installation is justified—in that the monotonous populous of white viewers snapping questionable photographs is clearly a demonstration of what the piece itself intends to critique—his anger may, perhaps, be circumventing the actual source of the rejected “appropriate” way of viewing (or, the disavowal of understanding the piece for its entirety, rather than the hype built around it).

The piece, long before Nicholas Powers visited, had accumulated momentum behind it. This momentum was fueled by hype: hype from Walker fans, hype from Creative Time fans (members), hype from publications and advertising. Yet, what was this hype building, exactly, what was the narrative being strung along? 1) 40 foot Kara Walker piece, made of sugar. 2) The Domino Sugar Factory, a looming building that has been closed for years and monopolizes prime Williamsburg real estate, a chance to not only see the inside, but also to say goodbye— and, sugar piece/sugar factory, duh.

I actually love and appreciate the projects executed by Creative Time, I believe they are a great organization with activist roots trying to break the monotony of the NYC (Western centric) art scene. But, this project had the exact same scaffolding as a blockbuster show at MoMA: painstaking attention to hype— advertising, and accruing as many viewers as possible. Rather than what might elevate some of the anger that Powers felt, a focus on interpretive significance of the piece, which draws historical events into context with the present— in the presence of not only the sculpture, but also the scene of the crime, if you will. The blockbuster methodology clearly clouted the vision of this project, thus creating what I will call the “Powers experience.”

Meanwhile amongst the hype, Powers and the We Are Here project— silently announce the presence of the Other, while white folk gawk and exploit the gigantium, stereotype of the Other— does not solve the issue at hand (nor does starting a fight with a Creative Time employee, who obviously caused the entire situation by themselves). Instead of taking a vow of silence and passively standing on the sidelines, stewing in your own anger, Powers, you could have channeled this all into a moment of transgression through teaching those white folks.

The full title of the piece, “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,” is compact with historical and present day significances that could be casually brought up to fellow viewers in the building. Those white tourist-types cannot understand unless there is a facilitation of understanding. You cannot just start screaming “don’t you know this is about rape?” and expect the people with tongues stuck out at a large vulva to hit an “on” switch into the mode of understanding. Maybe they do not know it is about rape. This would be your golden opportunity to expand the minds of those viewers who obviously didn’t understand the purpose of the work. And since your anger towards Creative Time is for not taking the role as facilitator for understanding the work (instead of anger towards Creative Time for letting all the white people run rapid with cameras) it should have been you fostering an understanding— opposed to yelling at the passive viewers who only went home to upload pictures and talk about that crazy screaming guy at the Domino Sugar Factory.

There can never be understanding if your reaction is to attempt to shame all of the people in the room. There will never be understanding if your reaction is to draw lines in the sand because they “do not know,” and you “do.”

Frankly, it was a missed opportunity, Powers.

#Beloved Community



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