NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 105

So there I was in Brooklyn, on July 5, 2014, walking through the cavernous space that was also a cathedral of business complete with altar piece venerating sugar and slavery, practically a century and a half after slavery was signed away but refused to die. Instead, sugar sustained its future. And looming large in my eyes and in those of everyone else in attendance were these huge breasts of a pyramid beast woman, recast as reproductive machine. And she was made to suckle and perpetuate domination, to rebirth and sustain the sweetness of social differentiation and hierarchy. I did not want to dwell long in the noxious smell of cloying sugar. Still, I did not regret coming. I had made the pilgrimage; I was seen and I saw, and I witnessed first-hand the Sphinx Mammy of empyrean whiteness. Even so, like the young brown boys, the Mammy Sphinx, despite her size, was fragile. Made of dissolvable stuff, she carried an expiration date, perhaps stamped on her hind parts or inside the voluptuous vulva. At the same time, she was enigmatic. And in those unending crowds, where was the Oedipus who could answer the riddle of the ages, while personally signifying the abomination of the mother, which is also slavery’s big sin and curse. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE Symbols and currencies abound. The Mammy symbol is magnified and so are the currency and fluidity of sugar that can occur in various forms: refined, raw, crude, brown, white, spirit-infused, and molten. The show’s penultimate day has meaning too. It is July 5, Independence plus one. Frederick Douglass, slavery’s virile icon of intelligence and independence, Mammy’s alter ego, when the Domino factory opened, has spoken of July 4, and why it has little meaning for him and for the men, women, and children of his blood who would not accommodate being mute statues in denigration’s gaze. Perhaps not so well known is that many of those in the arc of slavery’s stifling sweetness chose not to celebrate July 4, but honored the day following, July 5, instead. 103 The show is not just about seeing mammy minstrel and magnificent, but about seeing the self in her company. The show shares limelight with the spectator. Who comes? The families and friends cluster together, the crowds assemble and disassemble. How do they act? What do they do in relation to what is staged? When Kara Walker was making her early silhouettes, most of whom enjoyed the penetration of power, she was creating visual characters, flat yet stark. Now, with this threedimensional work, her depictive power has grown, and moved off the wall into the hall. Mammy’s largeness is not just about the figure but about Mammy’s meaning in American life, not only then but also now, and we, the spectators, tell that current story as we position ourselves in mammy’s presence, cavorting and smiling on the floor and under the ceiling that the Havemeyers (loosely translated as the have-mores) of Domino wealth constructed and reinforced.