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
2014, polystyrene coated in sugar
Kara Walker, American born 1969
A work recalling the history of sugar agriculture: the ‘white gold’ of slavery.
A history whose slave ropes coil downwards to this moment: its frayed threads needled through the fabric of our lives today.
Photo by Jason Wyche © Kara Walker, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., N.Y. published in the New York Times in June 2019
On display in a Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, NY which was demolished after this exhibition to be converted (much of it) into condominiums.
Photo from the net
The Domino Sugar factory was once owned by the Havermeyers, one of whose scions, Henry Havermeyer, was a large benefactor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.
The work takes the features of a stereotypical ‘black mammy’ in a kerchief.
Photo from the net
Aunt Jemima, based on a racist stereotype, dates to a minstrel song of the late 19th century.
Nostalgia for the antebellum South.
The image was translated into a television series in the middle of the 20th century. It is very widely known in the USA from advertising media of all kinds.
The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, 1972, wood, cotton, plastic, metal, acrylic paint, printed paper and fabric.
Betye Saar, American born 1926.
UC Berkley Art Museum on loan to Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
It took until the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, MN on May 25, 2020 for many people to acknowledge that Aunt Jemima – and other – symbols pertaining to African and native American history are racist.
The New Jemima , 1964, 1970, acrylic on fabric over plywood construction.
Joe Overstreet, 1933-2019, American.
The Menil Collection, Houston whose photo this is.
Since 2011 it is PepsiCo, one of our great purveyors of sugar in all its forms, who has owned Quaker Oats, (founded 1889) pancake mix and syrup.
One of the modernized incarnations of Quaker Oats’ depiction of Aunt Jemima. Image from the New York Times, June 2020
Over the years, PepsiCo and the prior owners of Quaker Oats hoped that modernizing the image of Aunt Jemima would sufficiently occlude the memory of her origins.
Occlude the memory of her origins. The North American origins of a whole people.
It took PepsiCo until mid-June, 2020, after a widely shared expose on TikTok of Aunt Jemima’s history
to remove Aunt Jemima from its marketing and packaging of Quaker Oats.
Liberate (25 mammies), 2015, mixed media assemblage.
Bettye Saar, American born 1926
Courtesty of the artist and Roberts projects, Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Brian Forrest. Published in ArtNews in June 2020
Sugar continues to be grown in the United States. Not to speak of consumed in vast quantities.
African American farmers continue to suffer discrimination in lending by the US Government by way of banks for sugar as for other farming.
This despite the largest recorded settlement in history by the US Government to African Americans for such historical discrimination.
One such history of discrimination has devastated the life of a young couple, descendants of African American sugar farmers.
They have been unable these last few years to farm their ancestral plot in Florida which had long been farmed for sugar by their family.
They were denied the habitual loans extended to farmers.
Their house has been foreclosed. White farmers have taken over their plot.
Their story was included in the documentary (audio and written), 1619: a history of slavery and its far-reaching consequences. Nikole Hannah-Jones, its author, won a Pulitzer prize for Commentary in 2019:
1619 being the 400th anniversary of the enforced transplantation of Africans onto North American soil.
President Trump called (September 6, 2020) for the defunding of schools which use 1619 in their teaching material.
The view of American history represented by 1619, he says, is un-American.