LONDON — Teeming with sharks, slave ships, pirates, a Venus, and an obscure reference to a mysterious “K. West,” Kara Walker’s Fons Americanus — a massive marble fountain dedicated to the victims of trans-Atlantic slavery — has entered the pantheon of iconic Turbine Hall projects at London’s Tate Modern.
At the very top, a curvaceous Venus angles her neck upward, spouting water from her mouth and nipples. Below, pirate-like characters sit atop a plinth presiding over a circular base with numerous slave ships and people floating among a basin of dead sharks. The boats are modeled on those that used to traverse the Middle Passage and the maritime trade that endured from the 17th to 19th centuries. The British Empire used these same boats to colonize the globe, building a massive, powerhouse economy and kidnapping hoards of Black people from the African continent to maintain its violent, imperial reign.
The 42-foot-high monumental sculpture is rife with allegorical references to the horror and violence of trans-Atlantic slavery, but also references other notable art-historical objects like the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Winslow Homer’s 1899 painting “The Gulf Stream,” and even Damien Hirst’s shark suspended in formaldehyde. Its initial inspiration is the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace, a monument to 19th-century Queen Victoria.
During a press tour earlier this week accompanied by Tate Modern curator Clara Kim, Walker called her project a “sardonic counterprogram to the celebration of empire,” linking the installation to debates around Confederate monuments in the United States, where she lives and works.
“It’s only really recently that there’s been a concerted national conversation about these monuments, about how they got there and what they mean,” she said.
Hoping that her Turbine Hall monument will spark wider conversation about racism and the role of art in public space, Walker said she hopes projects like this will prompt more discussion about how slavery continues to manifest in different ways, including today along the Mediterranean where migrants continue to be human trafficked.
Walker’s latest project at the Tate Modern points to a continuity within her body of work that links capitalism to the abuse of Black people throughout the ages. It can be considered an extension of some of Walker’s other monumental works, like “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby,” the massive, sugar-coated sphinx-like figure that she installed inside a former Domino Sugar factory in Brooklyn.
Kara Walker’s Hyundai Commission, Fons Americanus, continues at Tate Modern (Bankside, London SE1 9TG) through April 5, 2020. The installation was curated by Clara Kim.
The last few years at the museum have not been without controversy, and Decatur will inherit a record of workforce struggles.
Refugees of the Moria camp in Lesvos, Greece are behind the camera in the film Nothing About Us Without Us.
This adventurous theater festival returns in person with 36 artists and companies from nine countries performing at different venues across the city.
Helen Molesworth’s true-crime sensation marginalizes the artist’s life and legacy.
Members of NatSoc Florida performed the Nazi salute and chanted “Heil Hitler” at a local LGBTQ+ charity’s fundraiser in Lakeland.
Learn more about the New York-based, globally linked program and its upcoming discussions on art and society in the time of AI and data governance.
Nothing on the canvas wholly captures what it means to belong on land or at sea.
Dyson is part of a growing number of contemporary artists to imbue geometric abstraction with a sociopolitical dimension.
The program, along with recently announced visiting critics, will provide long term funding, promote access, and safeguard experimentation for future students of color.
In an exhibition that consists of mostly small-scale black and white works on paper, viewer engagement almost magically awakens the sleepy room.
Maria Maea’s All in Time continues an intergenerational conversation and exemplifies the artist’s process, not simply the finished pieces.
Koestler Arts works with incarcerated people and patients in secure mental health units, aiming to improve their lives through creativity.
Local artists and culture workers are wondering how the arena will impact the arts landscape, including museums and alternative spaces.