Chapter 4 The Finger That Mocks the World

Kara Walker’s Sugar Baby and Images of African American Womanhood

In: Exploring the Black Venus Figure in Aesthetic Practices
Author: Carmen Birkle

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Carmen Birkle addresses the representation of black womanhood, embodied in African American artist Kara Walker’s massive woman-sphinx sugarcoated sculpture, entitled A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby (2014). By drawing on parody and the African American concept of “signifyin(g)” – both of which imply repetition with a critical difference, though in slightly different ways – Birkle argues how history and the stereotypification of black female sexuality are brought together in the oversexualized Black Venus figure that parodies Jezebel and the related idea of promiscuity, but also symbolizes black women’s roles as Mammy and Aunt Jemima figures in the service of their white masters. With reference to African American musician Nicki Minaj’s wax figure at Madame Tussauds Las Vegas and her “Anaconda” rap video, the chapter explores how Sugar Baby and Minaj taunt white representations, stigmatization, and steretypification by way of seemingly adopting, yet critically inverting them, reclaiming their sexuality and right to self-representation in the process.