Alison Saar (born 1956) is an American sculptor, painter, and installation artist. Her work explores themes of African cultural diaspora and spirituality. Both of her parents were artists, and her mother was deeply involved in the 1970s Black Arts movement. This personal background sets the stage for Saar’s blending of art historical critique and identity politics in works like Caché (2006). Saar frequently draws upon neo-African sources to construct multimedia works (often deploying found and ready-made objects). Here, Saar’s life-size sculpture interweaves an autobiographical narrative with African cultural references. Caché evokes visual clichés in Western art—specifically the reclining female nude, which has typically represented a sexually available woman. Yet the sculpture, a carved wooden figure covered in salvaged antique ceiling tin, is not a relaxed and submissive nude, but positioned actively in a way that infuses the subject with agency. Saar draws specific attention to hair, which she refers to as “anglosaxified” hair, in order to make a statement about the construction of cultural identity. Hair is also centralized here to comment on its importance in African and African American cultures.
African American artists also turned to the female body, or their own self-portrait, as a means of redressing art history’s negative images of race. They recognized that the erotic black body often carried negative social and cultural associations in Western art. The black female nude was predominantly equated with illicit sexuality and the enslaved body, and the black male with sexual, animalistic prowess.1
1. Alyce Mahon, Eroticism and Art, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Alison Saar, American, born 1956
Wood, ceiling tin and wire
28 x 26 x 90 in.
Purchased through the Virginia and Preston T. Kelsey 1958 Fund; 2006.32
© Alison Saar