Sugar:: Ron Bechet

Vanity: How Sweet is it? What is it about humanity that makes it sometimes so inhumane?

This work was made to explore the dichotomy and irony of our relationships with sugar. It became the fuel that exploited free labor by the system of enslaving Blacks and Africans. The first refined sugar apparently appeared in India about 2,500 years ago and spread from there. The Portuguese found favorable conditions in what we call Brazil today in the late 1500’s. They soon brought stolen Africans to work in a free-labor based, plantation economy to feed Europe’s sweet tooth. This started in the 1300s. The success of Brazilian sugarcane spread to the Caribbean around 1650 and on to the American South making it one of the richest parts of the world at that time. There were many more Africans enslaved in South America than in the American South. Indigenous land was taken and many killed and cultures destroyed to establish these farms. Today there is still a farm that serves as a state prison in Louisiana, where little has changed since its establishment. Its name is Angola.  What is it about humanity that makes it sometimes so inhumane?

It is my hope that this work opens a mirror for us to be able to see how complicit we were and still are to our vanity, desire and greed from others’ distress and jeopardy.  I hope this piece serves to make a small path toward empathy and understanding how our past still shapes our future. The question is do we still act inhumanely or do we reckon with our shared past toward a better future for all and not a few of the fortunate?