Artist Kara Walker Draws Us Into Bitter History With Something Sweet : NPR: Kara Walker was barely out of art school when she won a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant, in 1997. Back then, her early work shocked audiences in part because her murals looked so charming from a distance. Black paper shadow portraits of colonial figures seemed to dance on white gallery walls; but lean in and you'd find your nose pressed up against images of slavery's horrors — mammies, masters, lynchings and sexual violence.
In other words, Walker is used to filling a room. But this spring she was asked to fill a warehouse — the abandoned Domino Sugar factory in New York. It's about to be leveled to make way for condos and offices, but before it goes, Walker was asked to use this cavernous, urban ruin for something special.
Walker took me on a tour of the show a day before it opened. The factory is covered in sugar — it almost looks like insulation or burned cotton candy.
"It's a little bit sticky in some areas ..." she said. "There's sugar caked up in the rafters."
I was so busy trying not to get molasses on my shoes that when I turned
the corner, I was stunned. There in the middle of this dark hall was a
bright, white sphinx. The effect is the opposite of those white-walled
galleries; a dark space and a towering white sculpture made of — what
else? — sugar.