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Betye Saar: Workers + Warriors, The Return of Aunt Jemima

September 10 – October 31, 1998

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Press Release

Betye Saar: Workers & Warriors: The Return of Aunt Jemima, is Saar’s first solo gallery exhibition since 1982. For the past fifteen years, Saar has actively exhibited in the United States and abroad, including the 22nd Sao Paulo Biennal in 1994.

Betye Saar: Workers & Warriors: The Return of Aunt Jemima consists of thirty mixed media assemblages. The basic structure for each work is an antique washboard of weathered wood and metal on which Saar has collaged found objects, images, and text. Aunt Jemima is the central image in all the works, representing the African-American woman as both a worker and a warrior. For Saar, Aunt Jemima is "a mammy, an Auntie, Aunt Sally, Aunt Jemima, Aunt whoever. She is depicted with a glistening black face, a broad nose, thick grinning lips, wearing a head rag and apron. "Aunt Jemima, I see you in your true light, a transplanted African Queen, a survivor, a nurturer, a free spirit, a warrior who transmitted to us the urge to battle indifference and ignorance and gave us the courage to slay the demons of racism."

"The Return of Aunt Jemima" used in our exhibition title is a specific reference to the 1972 landmark assemblage by Betye Saar titled, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima. Motivated by her need to confront ongoing racism in our society, Saar has returned to the potent image of Aunt Jemima. Appropriately, Saar’s introductory statement for the exhibition catalogue is titled "Unfinished Business."

With the return to Aunt Jemima, this series of washboard assemblages exemplifies Saar’s use of derogatory images. Although Saar has utilized and empowered the derogatory image in her art since the 1970s, politically and socially charged works represent only a small portion of her oeuvre. Consistently, Saar has created meditative and introspective collages, assemblages and site-specific installations which are steeped in spirituality, mysticism, and Eastern beliefs. She states, "I am intrigued with combining the remnant of memories, fragments of relics and ordinary objects, with the components of technology. It’s a wave of delving into the past and reaching into the future simultaneously. The art itself becomes the bridge."

Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, is the exclusive representative of Betye Saar.