A new music video by FKA twigs that premiered on Tuesday evening has at its center an artwork that has spurred debate recently: a giant fountain sculpture by Kara Walker that is now on view at Tate Modern in London. Titled Fons Americanus, the sculpture appears throughout the video, titled “Don’t Judge Me,” which accompanies a song FKA twigs made with Fred Again… and Headie One. Since it first went on view in 2019, Walker’s work is believed to have been seen by millions of viewers.
Fons Americanus is intended as a monument to the horrors of the British slave trade. At 42 feet tall, the towering work is situated in Tate’s Turbine Hall, where it is due to remain on view through February 7. (After that, its materials will be recycled.) The work draws its inspiration from the iconic Victoria Memorial fountain at Buckingham Palace, and it pays homage to various historical figures and notable works from art history, often via sculptures intended to personify certain concepts.
Though many critics praised the work, calling it a powerful meditation on the role of monuments today, Fons Americanus has also had its detractors. Among them was critic Rianna Jade Parker, who wrote in an ARTnews essay that Walker, who is American, had not done enough to consider Tate’s own connection to the slave trade and that a Black British artist might have been better suited to creating the work. “If it were afforded the same resources and an international stage, could a community-based and collaborative process involving Black British artists have resulted in something more nuanced?” Parker wrote.
In the FKA twigs video, dancers writhe around the sculpture as though they are being yanked and pulled by invisible forces. Around them are various notable Black British men and women, including the writer Benjamin Zephaniah, the soccer player Mahlon Romeo, and Reni Eddo-Lodge, the first Black author ever to top the U.K. bestseller list. This theme of constraint is paralleled by images of FKA twigs seated in a largely vacant room. As soon as she gets too far from her seat, she’s drawn right back again to her chair. She shares a directorial credit on the video with Emmanuel Adjei, who worked on the Beyoncé visual album Black Is King.
On Twitter, FKA twigs wrote, “it was an honour to shoot with kara walkers fountain exploring the interconnection of black history between africa, america and europe.”