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Betye Saar: New Work—Roberts Projects

By Mark Westall 

Roberts Projects to present Betye Saar: New Work. Occupying the intersections of historic narrative and ancestral memory, factitive ritual and metaphysical truth, this exhibition is testament to Saar’s enduring legacy as a pioneer of Assemblage art and an American cultural icon. Referencing the tradition of accumulative sculpture that characterizes artistic conventions, Saar’s mixed-media assemblages emerge from a unique succession of gestures that meaningfully build upon each other. This process of accumulation takes aesthetic objects with profound epistemic weight—such as vintage wooden boxes, found objects and photographs—and thoroughly transforms them into mythical entities compounded by historical time.

As a key figure in the Black Arts Movement of the mid-20th century, Betye Saar’s prolific and interdisciplinary practice draws from personal narratives and cultural histories of the Black and African diaspora to make sacred connections between the quotidian and the sublime. Her symbolically rich body of work has evolved over time to demonstrate the environmental, cultural, political, racial, technological, economic, and historical context in which it exists.

Saar’s early observance of Simon Rodia’s building methodology in constructing the Watts Towers in Los Angeles introduced her to ideas of how found materials can simultaneously embody both the spiritual and physical. This objective—paired with her personal interest in metaphysics, magic and the occult—formed the origin of Saar’s assemblage works. Subsequent series after her iconic work The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972) have sought to reveal marginalized or hidden histories, and Saar has long examined the social invisibility of Black Americans in service-oriented jobs, the construction of racial hierarchies based on skin tone within Black communities, and the ways that objects can retain the memories and histories of their owners.


Image courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Paul Salveson.