Nicholas Powers

Originally published in The Indypendent Blog.

“You are recreating the very racism this art is supposed to critique,” I yelled. The visitors lowered their cameras. Just seconds ago, they had been aiming their lenses at the sculpture of a 40-foot tall, nude black female sphinx. Many posed under its ass; some laughed and pointed at its vulva. As I watched their joking, my thoughts spun and I walked into the crowd, turned to face them and began yelling.

It wasn’t my rage, it was our rage. Since May, gentrified Brooklyn buzzed with talk of the new Kara Walker exhibit, a giant sculpture of a Mammy sphinx at the derelict Domino Sugar Factory. On the Internet, one could see it was the size of a house, with full African lips and a flat nose, a doo-rag knotted on its forehead. Officially titled “a Subtlety,” it received glowing reviews on NPR’s All Things Considered and the New York Times. I was curious but also felt a low alarm going off in the back of my head. In early June, I went to the exhibit. The anxiety increased when I saw the factory — in line, nearly everyone was white. The alarm rang louder. 

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Nicholas Powers is an assistant professor of literature at SUNY Old Westbury. His book of poetry, "Theater of War" was published by Upset Press in 2004. He has written for the Village Voice and the Indypendent.