THREE AMERICAN CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS are bestowing lifetime achievement awards on Betye Saar. Next weekend, the Craft & Folk Art Museum Los Angeles (CAFAM) is honoring Saar at its annual fundraising gala. Earlier this year, Saar presented “Keepin’ It Clean,” a solo exhibition of washboard assemblages dating from the 1990s to present at the museum. On Oct. 16, CAFAM is recognizing her contributions to contemporary art history and commitment to “racial equality, cultural inclusion, and women’s rights.”

The CAFAM honor is the first of three career tributes Saar, 91, is receiving in the coming months. The Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco and the International Sculpture Center (ISC) are also celebrating her achievements over the past six decades.

A pioneer of post­-war black nationalist and second-wave feminist aesthetics, Saar lives and works in Los Angeles. Since the 1960s, she has been collecting found objects, the basis of her practice. Her assemblage works, mixed-media objects, and installations explore race, history, spirituality, politics, gender issues, and African American identity.

In 1972, Saar created “The Liberation of Aunt Jemima,” a box assemblage featuring a mammy figure holding a broom in one and and a rifle in the other. The powerful work inspired a series of related objects. In 2006, Saar gave an interview to NPR about the series and said it essentially defined her practice.

“I’m the kind of person who recycles materials, but I also recycle emotions and feelings,” Saar told NPR. “And I had a great deal of anger about the segregation and the racism in this country. And so this series sort of evolved. And I feel like if I had to say what was my contribution to the art world and to the world in general as an African American woman, [it] would be this series.”

“I’m the kind of person who recycles materials, but I also recycle emotions and feelings.” — Betye Saar, NPR

Acknowledging her lifetime contributions, the International Sculpture Center is presenting Saar with a Contemporary Sculpture Award at an April 18, 2018, gala in New York City. Later this month, MoAD is honoring Saar for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts. The museum is recognizing Saar “as one of the most profound living American artists” at its Afropolitan Ball on Oct. 28.

MoAD’s description of Saar, states why she is being honored: “…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. Without Saar’s legacy and her many contributions to the history of art, the Museum of the African Diaspora would not exist.” CT


TOP IMAGE: Portrait of Betye Saar by Jason Schmidt via Roberts & Tilton


Two new catalogs accompany recent exhibitions of Betye Saar’s work. “Still Tickin’” documents a major retrospective presented in the Netherlands and Scottsdale, Ariz. “Uneasy Dancer” complements her first exhibition in Italy, at the Prada Foundation in Milan. Also check out “Family Legacies: The Art of Betye, Lezley, and Alison Saar.” The volume explores the art of the matriarch and her daughters, all accomplished artists in their own right.


Participating in the UCLA Department of Art Lectures, Betye Saar discussed her career, presenting “Fade: The Art of Aging” Feb. 27, 2014. | Video by Hammer Museum


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