Publications and Research

Document Type


Publication Date



This essay analyzes the controversy surrounding artist Kara Walker’s 2014 installation, A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, to unpack the pleasures and dangers that subtend discussions of black female sexuality. What Walker announced as a tribute to the labor of brown and black bodies produced myriad conversations about pleasure, danger, and black female sexuality. Most art critics argued that the piece reclaimed black female agency; many visitors criticized the work (and the public response to it) as disrespectful and problematic. In the essay, I argue that both of these responses highlight the difficulty of talking about black female sexuality outside a framework of violation, in which consent (mutual agreement to action) is never possible. This essay analyzes the multiple layers of conversation about black female sexuality that the work produced, concluding with murmurs of a new conversation around the sphinx that signal new modes of apprehending black female queerness.


This article was originally published in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, available at

This work is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.