July 6, 2014
SWEET SMELLING ART…Kara Walker Installation
In early June I began seeing my smart culturally aware friends (mostly black women) posting Instagram pictures of the Kara Walker Installation at The Domino Sugar Factory, and the discussions began of the beauty and pain of the installation and the callousness of the tourist who attended. I had no idea about the exhibit or about Kara Walker, as I am not as cultured as I pretend to be. I causally read about it and then moved on not even thinking about attending. You see I’m a real born and bred New Yorker and we don’t do tourist shit. We deplore it, and we hate mingling with the visitors and we can’t stand their excitement about being in this “great” city. We are the equivalent of the old man telling kids to get off his lawn. We can be a crotchety bunch that don’t take advantage of what is great about this city, especially in the summer. There are so many free things to do that are incredible and exclusive New York. I recently moved from my native Staten Island to Park Slope Brooklyn. I’m literally 2 blocks from the Prospect Park Band shell and you damn near have to drag me to free shows that happen there weekly. So to get me to go to Williamsburg to see an art installation based on sugar and slavery and the complexities around those subjects? Good luck with that.
Then my dear friend Essence Revealed wrote a compelling piece about her experience at the exhibit (http://theessencerevealed.com/blog/2014/7/1/sugar-can-unsweeten) and I was inspired to check it out. I looked up the dates and times online and realize that this (July 5th and 6th 2014) are the last days of the exhibit and they are opening early to accommodate everyone. So I wake up on Saturday the 5th with the intent on going to check it. I even put it on my calendar so I would be reminded 2 hours before. I ride my bike from the Slope to Williamsburg (about 4 miles) and I get there about 11am. The line was literally 9 blocks long. I was shocked as I thought I made a valiant effort to be there on time. In typical NY fashion I was offended at the prospect of having to wait hours on line. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Fuck it, wasn’t meant to be” and went to have brunch and finish my day. I get home from a full Saturday at 4:00am and I can’t sleep. I’m playing Words With Friends while watching World War Z on Netflix and thinking about a myriad of things. I thought long about the Kara Walker exhibit. Earlier that day my sister Lynore read me the riot act. She said “how are you 4 miles from some free shit that is the largest and most talked about art piece, and by a black woman and folks are coming from around the world to see it and you are ignoring it? You being silly and lazy and you’re smarter than that.” Sigh ok, sis, I’ll try again.
I sleep for 2 hours, wake up at 8:30, eat and head out on my bike again. I was determined to be there early enough not to “ruin” my day. Got there 9:45 and there was a line but nothing like the day before. It was reasonable. The line was full of tourist. The people behind me were from Melbourne, Australia, which happens to be one of my top 5 cities on the planet (that I’ve visited). We had a fun discussion, but mostly I just listened to a bunch of music and tried to stay to myself. Essence went with a group of people and had that experience, but I really wanted to see this on my own and form my own opinion. People were out there with umbrellas to block the sun. A pregnant woman ahead of me kept walking across the street to be in the shade. I made small talk when necessary but I spent most of the time listening and dancing to this song called The Universe by an artist I work with named dEnAuN, over and over like a mantra. “I put it in the universe, I can do anything as long as I think this way” was the refrain. I had a surprising amount of energy considering I had very little sleep and just rode my bike here. The show runners come out and had us sign waivers, some stuff about toxicity and personal items and basically all around “we aint responsible for shit that goes down when you get inside so don’t try it.” Cool, I sign and we head in. I’m in the first group. By this time the line is 9 blocks long again, and I’m glad I couldn’t sleep and got here early. I walk in and I’m immediately aware of the smell of sugar and molasses. It’s overwhelming, and mixed with dirt and sweat, but sweet and not offensive. I see the small boy “statues” holding baskets and some that have melted. I almost didn’t want to look at the “Sphinx” yet because I knew this was the central piece and I wanted to take the room in first. But the piece is so huge and impressive, that it can’t be missed. I was blown away. I had seen pics, but they do it no justice, it’s one of those, you had to be there things. I saw folks being serious and talking about the significance of the art, and folks making jokes and being disrespectful. But I had been prepped for this so I didn’t even let anything take away from my experience. I kept my headphones in and was listening to Rakim, and PE and Pharoahe and Kendrick and walking around snapping some shots for sis. I finally walk up to the “Sphinx” and I’m intimidated by how huge this is. A black woman who was with the organizers apparently sees the look on my face as asks me if I have any questions. I say no. She says “you get it” in that knowing way that black folks talk to each other, and I say “yup, I get it” and I then ask if I can get closer. She says “of course” and smiles. I suspect I was the first one to ask that today. I walk up and snap a few shots from under and then make my way around and grab some shots. Then I sat on the bench to take the scene in for a while before I left. I was sitting next to an older black couple that seemed intoxicated by the scene. They appeared to be of West Indian decent and seemed like they had been together for many years (purely speculation but you can tell by how comfortable people are with each other) and they seemed melancholy. I asked them what did they think and she said without looking away from the art “it’s so beautiful and horrific, it says so much to me” and the man just nodded. With that I left because like the woman said to me earlier, I got it…