Sugar Baby & the Black Female Body

Vallerie Matos Jul 27, 2014

Domino Sugar Factory
Brooklyn, New York

“Please sign a waiver, this is private property and a live construction sight.”

Inside, my nostrils are filled with the smell of an old; rusted steel and heavy breathing – the scent that once clung to my grandmother’s clothing after hours of working metal through sheer fabric. I imagine this is what her bones smell like.

After a few more steps Sugar Baby came into my view– a 35-foot mammy sphinx,  sculpted and covered in refined white sugar. She greeted me with chills and a weight that hung heavy at the back of my throat. My eyes began to fill with the East River. I did not expect that my body would respond in this way—viscerally.

I found my way through the factory where there were statues of children made of molasses and brown sugar. They offered baskets and bananas. Others stood limbless; the summer heat began to take a toll on the integrity of their small bodies. Syrup seeped from their feet, puddle around them like blood, and uneven floors created caramelized appendages, resembling roots denied refuge into concrete.

I stood before the Sugar Baby and was reminded of Roman cathedrals. Their ceilings never high enough in order to emphasize human inadequacy in relation to God. Perhaps this was Walker’s nod to white supremacy.

My thoughts were soon interrupted by what felt like laughter at a lynching. An older white woman began chanting lyrics of a well-known song by rapper Sir Mix-Alot, “Baby Got Back.” The song is filled with male sexual objectification of the female body, but also opens with a white female critique of the black female body. The introduction follows as so:

“Oh, my, god./Becky, look at her butt./It is so big./She looks like one of the rap guys’ girlfriends./But, y’know, who understands those rap guys?/They only talk to her, because she looks like a total prostitute, ‘kay?/I mean, her butt, is just so big./I can’t believe it’s just so round, it’s like out there, I mean – gross./Look! She’s just so…black!”

The irony is uncanny but not a mere coincidence. I whipped my head towards the sound of her voice and hoped she could read my facial expressions like quilt codes. But there was nothing, she looked at me the way she did the Sugar Baby; there was something wrong with us.

I walked towards the backside of the sphinx and there stood two white men, arms around each other’s shoulders, ready for their “Facebook picture.” Their bodies projected images of hunters standing in front of large, dead game.  I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, I wanted Sugar Baby to burst into flames at that very moment just so that I could push them into her fire so that they could understand the pain held by black and brown skin.



Why I Yelled at the Kara Walker Exhibit by Nicholas Powers


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