Summary of Betye Saar
A cherished exploration of objects and the way we use them to provide context, connection, validation, meaning, and documentation within our personal and universal realities, marks all of Betye Saar's work. As an African-American woman, she was ahead of her time when she became part of a largely man's club of new assemblage artists in the 1960s. Since then, her work, mostly consisting of sculpturally-combined collages of found items, has come to represent a bridge spanning the past, present, and future; an arc that paves a glimpse of what it has meant for the artist to be black, female, spiritual, and part of a world ever-evolving through its technologies to find itself heavily informed by global influences. This kaleidoscopic investigation into contemporary identity resonates throughout her entire career, one in which her work is now duly enveloped by the same realm of historical artifacts that sparked her original foray into art. Over time, Saar's work has come to represent, via a symbolically rich visual language, a decades' long expedition through the environmental, cultural, political, racial, and economic concerns of her lifetime.
- Saar's explorations into both her own racial identity, as well as the collective Black identity, was a key motif in her art. Her contributions to the burgeoning Black Arts Movement encompassed the use of stereotypical "Black" objects and images from popular culture to spotlight the tendrils of American racism as well as the presentation of spiritual and indigenous artifacts from other "Black" cultures to reflect the inner resonances we find when exploring fellow community.
- Similarly, Saar's experience as a woman in the burgeoning Feminist movement also showed up largely in her art: items such as washboards, ironing boards, clothing, or other tokens of domesticity appear as odes to women's work, refigured as representations of the creative female voice, bursting from its confines.
- Spirituality plays a central role in Saar's art, particularly its branches that veer on the edge of magical and alchemical practices, like much of what is seen historically in the African and Oceanic religion lineages. A vast collector of totems, "mojos," amulets, pendants, and other devotional items, Saar's interest in these small treasures, and the meanings affixed to them, continues to provide inspiration.
- Saar's work is marked by a voracious, underlying curiosity toward the mystical and how its perpetual, invisible presence in our lives has a hand in forming our reality. She says, "It may not be possible to convey to someone else the mysterious transforming gifts by which dreams, memory, and experience become art. But I like to think I can try."
Biography of Betye Saar
Betye Irene Saar was born to middle-class parents Jefferson Maze Brown and Beatrice Lillian Parson (a seamstress), who had met each other while studying at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is of mixed African-American, Irish, and Native American descent, and had no extended family.