Betye Saar: In Service, A Version of Survival features fourteen mixed media assemblages, where the structural format for most is a vintage serving tray. These works confront and deconstruct derogatory black images, particularly the mammy icon. Since the 1970s, Saar has consistently returned to her original mission "to transform and empower negative images into positive information" and her characterizations of mammies and other servants promise to jolt viewers’ conceptions of black Americans and servitude.
Found objects, including vintage tin signs, which were popular to advertise commercial products, are combined with the trays and derogatory images of African-Americans in roles of servitude, to present new messages. Saar’s purpose in creating these works is to remind us of the struggle of African-Americans and to reclaim the humiliating images of how these workers were once portrayed. Saar states "I feel that, however painful, there is honor in re-presenting the past. Racism should neither be ignored nor satirized, as it is a form of bondage for everyone, regardless of color. Racism cannot be conquered until it is confronted."