Fons Americanus by Kara Walker is the latest Hyundai Commission at Tate Modern. It is a 13-metre tall working fountain inspired by the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace, London.
Rather than a celebration of the British Empire, Walker’s fountain explores the interconnected histories of Africa, America and Europe. She uses water as a key theme, referring to the transatlantic slave trade and the ambitions, fates and tragedies of people from these three continents. Fantasy, fact and fiction meet at an epic scale.
The full title of the work is painted on the wall of the Turbine Hall (see below). Written in Walker’s own words, the text encourages us to confront a history often misremembered in the UK. She presents the artwork as a ‘gift … to the heart of an Empire that redirected the fates of the world’. Walker has signed the work ‘Kara Walker, NTY’, or ‘Not Titled Yet’, in a play on British honours awards such as ‘OBE’ (Order of the British Empire).