This is the last weekend to see Kara Walker’s, “A Subtlety”, and the insides of the Domino Sugar Refinery in which it is housed, before it is all razed to make way for another Williamsburg luxury condo. The line moves fast and the exhibit is powerful. Definitely a must visit if you can get into Brooklyn this weekend.
Robert Shelton had never seen the floor of what he always called the sugar house until the day this spring when he returned to the Domino refinery. In the 20 years he worked in its char house, the kilns blasting the temperature up to 140 degrees year round, the mounds of unbleached crystals had never dipped below the seven- or eight-foot mark.
Now he could see it was all gone, and the metal beam at the plant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that used to mark the sugar’s high point — it was still caked, here and there, with clumps at least a decade old — came up only to the white sphinx’s neck, maybe her ear. She was that big.
“It almost talks to you; it’s alive,” Mr. Shelton said on Tuesday. “Something just comes over you.”
He was talking about “A Subtlety,” the massive sculpture by the artist Kara Walker, a sugar-coated homage to African-American slave women and to the slave laborers who built the 19th-century sugar trade.
The installation is to close on Sunday. The closer the day gets, Mr. Shelton said, “the sadder I get, because after this, I can never come back here again.”
…This spring, he read that the sugar house was open, and looking for volunteers.
A few other former Domino employees have come by, including his Yonkers supervisor and another man who called “Shelton!” and burst into tears upon seeing him. Mr. Shelton cried, too.
He said he had borrowed his step-granddaughter’s history textbook to learn about the origins of the sugar trade. When a European tourist told him that the Domino plant and all it stood for were built on the backs of slaves, he acknowledged the historical reference, but replied proudly: “I don’t see that we were slave labor here. We got paid well.”
Still, if it were up to him, he would usher more black people through the gates to confront the past. He would force Two Trees, which will develop the Domino complex, to build more affordable housing on the site. He would preserve the sphinx.
“I wish I had money like Rupert Murdoch or Bloomberg,” Mr. Shelton said as he left the sugar house. “I’d put it downtown in a climate-controlled greenhouse. I’d donate it to the city.”
There it would remain forever, he said: a monument to sugar’s story, and to his own.