Kara Walker’s first public artwork, a sculpture made in 2014, is located at Brooklyn’s Domino Sugar Factory. Titled A Subtlety, it is a massive sugar-coated sphinx with the kerchiefed head of a mammy figure. Monumental in scale, the arresting piece is a response to its surroundings, the history of the building, and its product. History is often the subject of Walker’s work, particularly her haunting panoramas of cutout silhouettes, a form of expression she launched with 1994’s landmark exhibition “Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart.” Grand and sweeping narratives set in the antebellum South, these works expose the horrors of slavery and the guile behind sentimentalized depictions of the period. Walker’s bold and unflinching approach has made her increasingly prominent, but she has long maintained privacy over her process, in part by sealing her personal archives. These are now open to the public in an exhibition that unfurls her sketches and drafts, preparatory works that illustrate Walker’s wide range of inspirations—from Goya’s use of contrast to political cartoons. The survey is an illuminating look into one of contemporary art’s most influential and creative figures. —C.J.F.
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