Betye Saar

Gardens are everywhere and nowhere. They have this uncanny ability to be entirely site specific, a localisable place and equally utopian, somewhere else.

Assemblage work often shares this quality. Rather than invoking metaphors or symbol, sometimes we really are taken somewhere else. Especially when the work is boxed. A little like a garden enclosure. Think of how the Joseph Beuys glass displays or the Anselm Keiffer collection boxes seem to work. Joseph Cornell is another who comes to mind. 

But I am particularly taken with Betye Saar, African American woman artist who makes “voodoo textile mixed media boxes”. 

Well into her 90s, this clear voiced artist known for her collage and assemblage, a professional hoarder, unceasingly pays homage to the Rodia of the Watts Towers and other folk artists for their ability to inspire.

Coming from a background where segregation era schools did not accept “coloured” students interested in pursuing art and where the portfolio tradition of acceptance into private institutions went beyond the means of a working class black family, Saar came to art in a rather roundabout fashion. After a long stint as a social worker catering to the poor and forgotten she fell in with a west coast crowd of makers and shakers.  You can read more about her here. And possibly see her work in the upcoming Tate London exhibit “Soul of the Nation.”

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