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Towering new Tate Modern installation tells ‘origin story of Africa diaspora’

New York-based artist Kara Walker’s new Hyundai Commission work Fons Americanus is unveiled during a media event in London’s Tate Modern Turbine Hall (Jonathan Brady/PA)
New York-based artist Kara Walker’s new Hyundai Commission work Fons Americanus is unveiled during a media event in London’s Tate Modern Turbine Hall (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Tate Modern has unveiled its latest Hyundai Commission – a 13-metre-high fountain which tells the “origin story of the Africa diaspora”.

The huge work, entitled Fons Americanus was created by New York-based artist Kara Walker and features imagery drawn from the transatlantic slave trade, including imposing sailors and sharks.

Situated in the gallery’s vast Turbine Hall, the work is based heavily on the Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace, which was designed in 1901 and unveiled in 1911 to honour the achievements of Queen Victoria.

But instead of celebrating the history of the British Empire, the new work is designed to be a counter-memorial and a pointed critique of western history and culture.

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The Fons Americanus! Tate Turbine Hall opens tomorrow!

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The imagery on the fountain is derived from a cluster of art, literary and cultural figures throughout history ranging from Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde shark, titled The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living to JMW Turner’s Slave Ship.

Clara Kim, Tate Modern’s Daskalopoulos senior curator, described the fountain as “a gift from one cultural subject to the heart of the Empire”.

She told the PA news agency: “Those are (Walker’s) words and we are really delighted to be hosting this project.

“What is interesting is Kara’s interest in race and racial stereotypes over history has always been situated in her investigations at a particular moment in time.

Tate Modern Hyundai Commission
New York-based artist Walker’s new Hyundai Commission (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“What is fascinating is that her negotiations of race and racial identities and sexual identities are then brought forward into the history of the British Empire and the legacies of the Empire, by looking at the interconnections between America, Africa and the United Kingdom.”

Walker, 49, was raised in Atlanta, Georgia, and made her name exploring the intricacies of race, sexuality and violence through the history of slavery.

The Hyundai Commission is open to the public daily from 10am to 6pm and until 10pm on Friday and Saturdays.

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