Tag: Betye Saar

Betye Saar, 92, Artist Who Helped Spark Black Women’s Movement Has “Betye Saar: Keepin’ It Clean” Exhibit Opening in NY on November 2

Betye Saar – “Supreme Quality” (Photograph: Kris Walters/Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA)

by Nadja Sayej via theguardian.com

In 1972, a black cultural center in Berkeley, California, put out a call for artists to help create an exhibit themed around black heroes. One African American contemporary artist, Betye Saar, answered. She created an artwork from a “mammy” doll and armed it with a rifle.

Betye Saar (photo via dailybruin.com)

According to Angela Davis, a Black Panther activist, the piece by Saar, titled “The Liberation of Aunt Jemima,” sparked the black women’s movement. Now, the artist’s legacy is going on view in New York with “Betye Saar: Keepin’ It Clean,” an exhibit opening on November 2nd at the New York Historical Society, featuring 24 artworks made between 1997 and 2017 from her continuing series incorporating washboards. The exhibit runs until May 27, 2019.

“Saar says that it’s about keeping everything clean, keeping politics clean, keeping your life clean, your actions clean,” said Wendy Ikemoto, the society’s associate curator of American art. “She wants America to clean up its act and a lot of her art has to do with this idea that we haven’t cleaned up our act.”

Saar, 92, was born in Los Angeles and turned to making political art after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. “After his assassination in 1968, her work became explicitly political,” said Ikemoto. “That’s when she started collecting these racist, Jim Crow figurines and incorporated them in her assemblages.”

Betye Saar – “Dark Times” (Photograph: Robert Wedemeyer/Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles)

Saar was part of the black arts movement, the cultural – often literary – arm of the black power movement of the 1960s and 1970s; she was also among so-called second wave feminists. But she still found herself at a crossroads. “The black arts movement was male-dominated and the feminist movement was white-dominated,” Ikemoto said. “Being at the intersection of both movements, she became one of the most prominent black female artists for presenting strong, recognized women who are fighting off the legacy of slavery. I think it did open doors for other artists to follow.”

This traveling exhibit, from the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, shows Saar’s consistent message through her washboard series. “Many of her works tackle the broad issue of revisioning derogatory stereotypes to agents of change, historical change and power,” said Ikemoto. “Many artworks feature descendants of Aunt Jemima and mammy figures armed to face the racist histories of our nation.”

The exhibit includes “Extreme Times Call for Extreme Heroines,” a washboard piece Saar made in 2017 that features a mammy doll holding a pair of guns. The washboards are used in lieu of canvases and are loaded with symbolism.

“The washboard becomes her frame for the art, it’s the star,” said Ikemoto. “It’s the structure of black labor and she is moving it from a space of invisibility to highlight it. She is also using this humble object of hard labor to subvert notions of fine art.”

Each washboard is like a puzzle to be decoded, filled with small details that reference American history. There are Black Panther fists, references to police brutality and phrases from the Harlem renaissance poet Langston Hughes.

There are also references to Memphis, the city where King was assassinated, and to the Congolese slaves who were killed under the Congo Free State. Some washboards include phrases such as “national racism”.

“It’s as if Saar is suggesting how racism is so entrenched in our nation that it has become a national brand,” said Ikemoto. “She takes something that is a sign of oppression and violence, something pejorative and derogatory, and transforms it into something revolutionary.”

Not all of the artworks are on washboards, however. One piece from 1997, “We Was Mostly ’Bout Survival,” is on an ironing board, emblazoned with an image of a British slave ship.

“I think this exhibition is essential right now,” said Ikemoto. “I hope it encourages dialogue about history and our nation today, the racial relations and problems we still need to confront in the 21st century.”

More: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/oct/30/betye-saar-art-exhibit-racism-new-york-historical-society

Visual Artist Kara Walker Creates Unforgettable Confection at Domino Refinery in NYC

“A Subtlety” by Kara Walker (Credit: Abe Frajndlich for New York Times)

The smell hits you first: sweet but with an acrid edge, like a thousand burned marshmallows. Then you’re struck by the space, five stories high and more than a football field long. The storage shed of the Domino sugar factory, on the East River in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, was built in 1927 to hold mountains of raw sugar due for whitening. The plant was shuttered a decade ago, yet its crumbling walls still drip with molasses.

But head farther in, and that mess gives way to the pristine: Rising to the rafters and stretching 75 feet from paws to rump is a great sphinx, demure as her Egyptian cousin but glowing from a recent sugar coating. It is a sight so unlikely it seems Photoshopped.

Kara Walker, the sphinx’s creator, appears dwarfed by her almost-finished colossus, an ode to the cane fields’ black labor that she has chosen to make grotesquely white. She has titled it “A Subtlety” — after the intricate sugar sculptures that were centerpieces for medieval feasts — even though it is absurdly unsubtle. Its subtitle is “The Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World.”

The work was commissioned by Creative Time, the group known for its public art projects. “This feels like a Cecil B. DeMille set,” said Nato Thompson, Creative Time’s chief curator, gazing up at the result. From May 10 through July 6, on Fridays through Sundays, the public will get to be its cast of thousands.

Ms. Walker is a proudly tall woman — “5-10,” she tells me, correcting my guess of 5 feet 8. For protection from the room’s floating sugar, the artist wears yellow rubber overalls and a blue bandanna with shamrocks. Her face bears an uncanny likeness to her sphinx.

“I just noticed that her nose and profile are me, for sure,” Ms. Walker said. The “just” is hard to believe: In March, when I first visited studio in Manhattan’s garment district, she talked about enlarging the nostrils on an early draft of the head and, maybe unconsciously, pointed to her own nose as she did so.

Doubters — and there are more than a few — might read the sphinx as being all about inflating Ms. Walker’s ego and status. But it could as easily be a sendup of the genius-artist role foisted on Ms. Walker by others. “To joke about it isn’t necessarily to dismiss it,” she said, “but it is to acknowledge the complete folly of that whole notion.”

In the 20 years since her breakout installation at the Drawing Center in New York, when she was only 24, Ms. Walker has become a towering figure herself, an African-American visual artist who has achieved unparalleled global success. Her cut-paper silhouettes and animations, exhibited and owned by museums across the United States and abroad, harness genteel 19th-century imagery to magnify the dysfunctions bred by slavery.

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