Even if you missed seeing Kara Walker’s 75-foot-long nude mammy-sphinx in person at the Domino Sugar Factory this summer, chances are you saw it on Instagram. Maybe with someone faux-tweaking a nipple or sticking a tongue out toward its colossal vulva. Very quickly, the work, A Subtlety, became the notorious focus of many, many thousands of sometimes-tasteless selfies — a spectacle with unclear racial politics that turned many visitors off, even as thousands of others flocked to the show to take part.
As it turns out, Walker had been “spying” on the crowd, secretly recording visitors for the new 28-minute video “An Audience,” debuting Friday at Sikkema Jenkins & Co., through January 17.
Walker does not, however, judge her puerile fans as harshly as one might think. At a talk sponsored by the Broad in Los Angeles last month, she said:
“I put a giant 10-foot vagina in the world and people respond to giant 10-foot vaginas in the way that they do. It’s not unexpected. Maybe I’m sick. Sometimes I get a sort of kick out of the hyper essay writing, that there’s gotta be this way to sort of control human behavior. [But] human behavior is so mucky and violent and messed-up and inappropriate. And I think my work draws on that. It comes from there. It comes from responding to situations like that, and it pulls it out of an audience …”
The clip she prepared for us emphasizes people — especially people of color — standing before the sphinx in states of bafflement and wonder, caressing it and, yes, sometimes posing with it. All in all, Walker has said that she appreciated the crowd’s diversity — it was racially mixed, young and old. “People are stupid, but the greater majority are conscientious, if not always respectful.”
Video courtesy of the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co.