Tate Modern has unveiled its new Turbine Hall installation: a huge, imposing water fountain designed by Kara Walker.
On Monday, September 30, Tate Modern unveiled its newest Hyundai Commission inside the famous Turbine Hall. Created by Kara Walker, who is best known for her provocative depictions of race, sexuality and violence throughout the history of slavery, this ambitious work represents the story of the African diaspora and forces us to think about what is remembered and forgotten in public monuments.
Named Fons Americanus, you’ll find it at the far end of the Turbine Hall – and, really, you can’t miss it. It stands at 13 metres tall and boasts a spectacular—not to mention shark-infested—water feature. Sitting within two oval basins of water you’ll spot sculptural figures from a range of historical, literary and cultural sources. These include Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde shark, J.M.W. Turner’s Slave Ship (1840) and Winslow Homer’s Gulf Streem (1899).
Somewhat ironically, the installation has been inspired by the Victoria Memorial that sits in front of Buckingham Palace, which was designed and built to honour the achievements of Queen Victoria. But rather than celebrating the British Empire, Fons Americanus doesn’t conform to the usual functions of memorials and, instead, critiques it in a really powerful way. It tells the story of the Black Atlantic, exploring the interconnected histories of Africa, America and Europe, and referencing the transatlantic slave trade.
The 19th century slave propaganda image, The Voyage of the Sable Venus from Angola to the West Indies was a particular source of inspiration, as well as other images of Venus standing on a seashell. A statue of the Roman goddess stands at the top of the fountain, but she’s been recast as a priestess from Afro-Brazilian and Caribbean religions.
You’ll see the full title of the work painted onto the wall in the Turbine Hall, written by Walker herself. You’ll see she’s signed it off as ‘Kara Walker, NTY’, or ‘Not Titled Yet’, as a play on British honours awards such as ‘OBE’ (Order of the British Empire).
© All images credit to Ben Fisher unless otherwise stated.
Also published on Medium.