The Tragic Genius Of Kara Walker’s “Sugar Baby” Exhibit

By: Vanessa Newman, Politini Social Media Intern + Slayer of Oppressive Social Constructs 

Some things in life are so genius, they shouldn’t have to be explained.

For those of you who haven’t seen Kara Walker’s exhibit “A Subtlety” aka “The Marvelous Sugar Baby”, spoiler alert: I’m going to breakdown the genius behind Walker and her exhibit down for you. If you’ve seen pictures or read any coverage on it, you would know, at the least, that the exhibit is mainly comprised of a giant sculpture, composed of styrofoam and sugar (why sugar? Because slavery, my dear) of a Black woman with large breasts, curvy ass, and because she’s on her arms and knees you can see her lady parts from the back as well. To pretty much everyone viewing the exhibit, she is just a Black woman with Black features, made to take selfies smiling and laughing in front of while making comments like “Make sure you get the ass” or “I just want to touch her tit.” However, this woman, whom Walker sculpted, was actually Sara Baartman. Upon the abolition of the slave trade Baartman was illegally sold and transported to Britain and then France where she was put on show under the name “The Hottentot Venus.” While on exhibition, as if she were a mix between a living museum artifact and a sexualized prisoner, white men and women came from all over to poke, prod, ooh, ahhh, and probably take whatever was equivalent to the modern day selfie at Baartman.  Seeing as she was treated as a hypersexualized, exotified creature, she died in the early 1800s at only 36 due to her poor living conditions. Now fast-forward two centuries. Few knew who Baartman was because… well, we live in a white, patriarchal society where she has never been a required subject to learn about in any high school or college history course.

So, Kara Walker resurrects her, so to speak, in sugar sculpture form and puts her on a modern day display. And the exact same thing happened as it did in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s. White people come, they ooh, they ahh, they try to poke her plastic breasts, and take selfies right under her exposed vulva, and don’t even understand they’re repeating the EXACT same actions of their ancestors. Show’s how far we’ve REALLY come, doesn’t it? Kara Walker is a GENIUS for replicating the tragic display of Sara Baartman. Like literally, that’s one of the most heartbreakingly genius pieces of art I’ve ever seen. But white people… y’all are IDIOTS for playing into it just like she expected. S.M.H. But hey, now that you know, I won’t hold it against you. Go google Baartman or Walker. Step out of your privilege for a few minutes and read up on some Black history you’ve never had to be taught before. Go have a conversation with another one of your blissfully ignorant white friends and shake it up a bit. Get some perspective. Educate yourselves, to educate the generations to come.  So that in another two centuries, when some artist chooses to try this idea again, you won’t react so damn and disgustingly disappointing.

That’s my higher learning schpeal for the day. Stay true and keep it real. Feel free to comment and/or share– conversation makes the change go ‘round.