"Like Sugar:" A Sweet Treat for The Tang

"Like Sugar:" A Sweet Treat for The Tang

When we talk about sugar, we often reminisce about the taste of a cake or the smoothness of a sweet cocktail. Rarely do we mention sugar’s dark past: its roots haunted by colonial ties to distant lands. Sometimes, we have to wonder: how bad for us is sugar, really?

Skidmore English Professor Sarah Goodwin, one of the co-organizers for the exhibition “Like Sugar,” coming to the Tang Museum in the spring of 2019, explains that the topic of sugar in literature often appears as a symbol in the context of gender or social class.

Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovery explores the motif of sweetness and gender through the character Emma, who becomes utterly captivated by, and addicted to, fine-grained white sugar—appealing to her taste for refinement and purity. Ultimately, it is this same powdery substance — laced with arsenic — that causes her death.

Professor Goodwin is deeply intrigued by the different nuanced depictions of sugar in literature, a fascination she hopes to explore further in the exhibition. “I ask myself, who gives whom what forms of sugar, and how might this shape our discourse of sugar today? What does the text reveal about sugar’s connections with slavery and empire?”

Sugar and its foreboding qualities, however, are not only limited to 19th century literature. Once poverty enters the equation, it is not simply about sugary food as we understand it anymore. Since sugar has become more accessible for everyone, the impact of cheap sugar on eating habits has affected poverty-stricken families globally through epidemics of diabetes and other health issues. This unfortunate dependency on high-calorie, highly addictive food often enters racialized discourse on sugar that can border the realm of eugenics in some cases, according to Anthony Hatch in his book Blood Sugar: Racial Pharmacology and Food Justice in Black America. Hoping to shed some light on the situation, the scholar will be visiting campus in the spring.

While some may understand sugar’s roots in colonialism and slavery, and its many health implications, humans cannot seem to live without it. Can we unlearn a taste for sweets? Is taste culturally constructed? What role does the sugar industry have in shaping taste? These are all questions that have helped shape “Like Sugar.” And while it is still too early to construct a visual of the gallery space, Goodwin promises a show that will look for ways to make these issues more explicitly visible. Sounds pretty sweet.

 

“Like Sugar” will be on view at the Tang Museum from Feb 9, 2019 - Jun 9, 2019.

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