Text by Jessica Dallow, Barbara Matilsky.
Family Legacies celebrates the remarkable art of Betye Saar and her daughters, Lezley and Alison Saar. It explores the sharing of artistic and spiritual traditions within a family and shows how two generations of women use art to express changing ideas about gender, race, and ethnicity. Looking at the formal and thematic parallels in this family’s work reveals a fascinating glimpse into their creative dynamic. Each artist’s response to contemporary social issues -- identity, sexuality, spirituality, the female body, and stereotypes * emerges through her strikingly beautiful creations.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Betye Saar became an established artist in Los Angeles. Her autobiographical and political assemblages during this period affirmed the important role played by women, African Americans, and the artworks they created in defining contemporary culture. Lezley and Alison built upon the direction forged by their mother, with assemblages and sculptures that interpret both their family’s history and spiritual traditions. All three artists challenge the prevailing idea of a singular and unchanging African American identity by creating alternative interpretations of history, culture, and race.
Betye, Lezley, and Alison Saar share a passion for mixing media and incorporating objects into their work to create compositions that are layered with both personal and universal meaning. Drawing upon popular culture as well as sacred arts and beliefs from around the word, the three artists attempt to formulate a more multilayered view of themselves.
The objects featured, dating from the 1960s to 2005, include mixed media sculptures and paintings, assemblages, collages, and a collaborative installation created by the three Saars. Key works by each artist, representing the full chronological range and stylistic evolution of their oeuvre, underline their family ties, multi-racial heritage, and strong affinities to nature and diverse cultures. The works demonstrate a desire to reclaim the visual representation of African American women by exploring such subjects as slavery, stereotypes of domestic labor, and historical images of the female body.
Through distinctive yet parallel styles, Betye, Lezley, and Alison Saar have created a body of transcendent and empowering work that has impacted the history of contemporary art. This book and its accompanying exhibition highlight their position at the crossroads of artistic, feminist, and African American cultural legacies.
Family Legacies: The Art of Betye, Lezley, and Alison Saar accompanies the exhibition at Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina (December 18, 2005 - March 26, 2006); Pasadena Museum of California Art, Pasadena, California (April 30, 2006 - September 24, 2006); San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, California (October 22, 2006 - January 7, 2007); Palmer Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania (January 30 - April 22, 2007).
Published by University of Washington Press, Seattle, Washington, 2005
Format: Softcover, 8.8 x 10.8 inches / 144 pages / 51 color images