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The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, by Betye Saar. 1972
July 30, 1926 |
Los Angeles, California
|Training||University of California, Los Angeles, Pasadena City College, California State University, Long Beach|
Betye Irene Saar (July 30, 1926 in Los Angeles, California) is an American artist, known for her work in the field of assemblage. Her education included a time at the University of California, Los Angeles, from where she received a degree in design in 1949, and graduate studies in printmaking and education at Pasadena City College, California State University, Long Beach, from 1958 to 1962. Her interest in assemblage was inspired by a 1968 exhibition by Joseph Cornell, though she also cites the influence of Simon Rodia's Watts Towers, which she witnessed being built in her childhood. She began creating work typically consisting of found objects arranged within boxes or windows, with items drawing on various cultures reflecting Saar's own mixed heritage (African, Native American, and Irish).
In the late 1960s Saar began collecting images of Aunt Jemima, Uncle Tom, Little Black Sambo, and other stereotyped African-American figures from folk culture and advertising. She incorporated them into collages and assemblages, transforming them into statements of political and social protest. In the 1970s Saar shifted focus again, exploring ritual and tribal objects from Africa as well as items from African-American folk traditions. In new boxed assemblages, she combined shamanistic tribal fetishes with images and objects intended to evoke the magical and the mystical.
When her great-aunt died, Saar became immersed in family memorabilia and began making more personal and intimate assemblages that incorporated nostalgic mementos of her great aunt’s life. She arranged old photographs, letters, lockets, dried flowers, and handkerchiefs in shrinelike boxes to suggest memory, loss, and the passage of time.
In the early 1980s Saar taught in Los Angeles at the University of California and the Otis Art Institute now called Otis College of Art and Design. In her own work she began using a larger, room-size scale, creating site-specific installations, including altar-like shrines exploring the relationship between technology and spirituality, and incorporating her interests in mysticism and Voodoo. Pairing computer chips with mystical amulets and charms, these monumental constructions suggested the need for an alliance of both systems of knowledge: the technical and the spiritual.
Saar was a part of the black arts movement in the 1970s, challenging myths and stereotypes. In the 1990s, her work was politicized while she continued to challenge the negative ideas of African Americans. One of her better-known and controversial pieces is that entitled “The Liberation of Aunt Jemima.” It is a “mammy” doll carrying a broom in one hand and a shotgun in the other, and placed in front of the syrup labels. Her work began with found objects arranged in boxes or windows. The items would reflect her mixed ancestry.
She has been awarded honorary doctorate degrees by California College of Arts and Crafts, California Institute of the Arts, Massachusetts College of Art, Otis College of Art and Design, and San Francisco Art Institute.
Selected Solo Exhibitions
- 2006 Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA
- 2000 Savannah College of Art & Design, Savannah, GA and Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York City, NY.
- 1999 The University Art Museum, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM. and Anderson Ranch Art Center, Snowmass, CO. and The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI.
- 1998 Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY. and Jan Baum Gallery, Los Angeles, CA. and California African-American Museum, Los Angeles, CA.
- 1997 Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, WA.
- 1996 Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, IA and The Palmer Museum of Art, Penn State College, PA. and de Saisset Museum, Santa Clara, CA. and Joselyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE.
- 1994 Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, CA.
- 1993 Fresno Art Museum, Fresno, CA.
- 1992 The Ritual Journey. Josel off Gallery, University of Hartford, CT.
- 1991 Objects Gallery, Chicago, IL.
- 1990 Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA.
- 1989 Wellington City Art Gallery, Wellington, New Zea land and Art space, Auckland, New Zea land
- 1988 Taichung Museum of Art, Taichung, Taiwan.
- 1987 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA. and Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
- 1984 MOCA, Los Angeles, CA. and Georgia State University Art Gallery, Atlanta, GA.
- 1983 Woman’s Art Movement, Adelaide, Australia. and Canberra School of Art, Canberra ACT, Australia.
- 1982 Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA.
- 1981 Baum-Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles, CA. and Monique Knowlton Gallery, New York, NY.
- 1980 Studio Museum in Harlem. New York, NY.
- 1979 Baum-Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles, CA.
- 1977 Baun-Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles, CA. and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA.
- 1976 Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT. and Monique Knowlton Gallery, New York, NY.
- 1975 Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY.
- 1973 California State University, Los Angeles, CA.
Awards and honors
- 1997 The Visual Artists Award, The Flintridge Foundation, Pasadena, CA.
- 1995 Honorary Doctorate Degrees: California Institute of the Arts and Massachusetts College of Art
- 1993 Distinguished Artist Award, Fresno Art Museum
- 1992 James Van Der Zee Award, Brandywine Workshop, Philadelphia, PA.
- 1992 Honorary Doctorate Degrees: Otis College of Art and Design and San Francisco Art Institute
- 1991 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
- 1991 Honorary Doctorate Degree: California College of the Arts
- 1990 J. Paul Getty Fund for the Visual Arts Fellowship.
- 1990 22nd Annual Artist Award, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY.
- 1984 and 1974 National Endowment for the Arts Artist Fellowship
- Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, FL
- Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
- High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA.
- Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
- Kresge Art Museum State University, East Lansing, MI.
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA.
- Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ.
- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA.
- Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Museum of Art, Utica, NY.
- National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY.
- The New Jersey State Museum, Newark, NJ.
- The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ.
- The Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA.
- The Palmer Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.
- The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA.
- Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA.
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA.
- Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA.
- The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY.
- Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, WA.
- University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, CA.
- University of Massachusetts, Herter Art Gallery, Amherst, MA.
- Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN.
- Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY.
- Paysour, F. "Wonders of the House of Saar." International Review of African American Art vol. 20, no. 3 (2005), pp. 51–3
- Willette, J. S. M. "Stitching Lives: Fabric in the Art of Betye Saar." Fiberarts vol. 23 (March/April 1997), pp. 44–81
- Van Proyen, M. "A Conversation with Betye and Alison Saar" [interview]. Artweek v. 22 (August 15, 1991) pp. 3+
- Etra, J. "Family Ties." ARTnews vol. 90 (May 1991), pp. 128–33.
- Saar, Betye, et al. 2005. Betye Saar: extending the frozen moment. Ann Arbor; Berkeley: University of Michigan Museum of Art; University of California Press.
Film and video
- Betye and Alison Saar [videorecording]: Conjure Women of the Arts. by Linda Freeman and David Irving. c. 1996, 28 minutes, Color. Chappaqua, NY: L & S Video.
- "Biography" (2001). The Legacy Project. URL accessed on Mar. 4, 2006.
- Betye Saar's website
- Betye Saar interviews and biographical information
- Bettye Saar in 'Voices and Images of California Art'
- Betye Saar's oral history video excerpts at The National Visionary Leadership Project
- Betye Saar at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery