Urgent Museum Notice

Image for Every Rose Has Its Thorn: Alison Saar

Every Rose Has Its Thorn: Alison Saar

Blog Category:  NMWA Exhibitions

In celebration of NMWA’s 30th anniversary, and inspired by the museum’s focus on contemporary women artists as catalysts for change, Revival illuminates how women working in sculpture, photography, and video use spectacle and scale for expressive effect.
Alison Saar (b. 1956, Los Angeles, CA)
Alison Saar’s mother, acclaimed assemblagist Betye Saar, exposed her to the rich mythology of many non-Western traditions. She also learned from her father, a painter and art conservator. Her signature sculptures evoke German Expressionist work in robustness, reference Greek or African mythology in name or form, and often seek to address historical or contemporary social issues in the United States. A master of varied mediums, Saar places special emphasis on the tactility of handcraft, never afraid to experiment with finding new forms for her ideas.

Alison Saar, Tippy Toes, 2007; Wood and cast bronze, 59 x 23 x 23 in.; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, Gift of the Friends of African and African American Art, 2008.2 © Alison Saar

The Artist’s Voice:
“…It was really poignant to me, this idea that a work of art could, somehow, turn a page, or shed a light, or lead back to a source. And that’s one of the things that’s exciting about being an artist; that your work threads people to other places, and not necessarily in straight lines.”—Alison Saar, in an interview with BOMB Magazine
“I realized that by changing the function of objects, I could transform information and work ‘magic.’”—Alison Saar, in “The Saar System” in Mirabella (July 1992)
Revival Highlight:
The theme of hardship unites Saar’s works in Revival. The bodies of her figures often seem challenged, confined, or undermined by external obstacles or internal conflict, although they appear stoic in the face of suffering. Figures in many of Saar’s recent sculptures seem to suffer stabs of pain and loss by touching or consuming brambles. The motif speaks to broader themes of fertility, life cycles, human vulnerability, and hope.

Installation view of Alison Saar’s Barreness (2017)

Although the bramble’s thorns seem insidious at first, figures in works such as Tippy Toes (2007) and Barreness (2017) call that association into question. The brambles encircle and suspend the figure in Tippy Toes, uplifting while also trapping her. However, she appears calm, with her hands outstretched in a welcoming gesture. In Barreness, thorns germinate from the figure’s womb. The punning title of this sculpture plays on two words: “barrenness,” the incapability of producing offspring, and “baroness,” the title given to the wife of a baron, or to a woman who holds the title by her own right.
These suggestions of the “in-between” explore the conflicting identities often thrust upon women of color in an attempt to curtail or categorize them. As a biracial artist, Saar is interested in the complexity of personal history that rejects tidy categories.
Visit the museum and explore Revival, on view through September 10, 2017.

Related Posts

  • Iturbide and Kahlo: A Conversation

    Posted: May 18, 2020 in NMWA Exhibitions
    In one intimate photograph, Graciela Iturbide responds—and pays homage—to Frida Kahlo’s cultural legacy, creating an artistic dialogue between the two women.
    A black and white photograph of a worn body brace pinned on a blank concrete wall. The photograph is taken from slightly below and to the left of the brace. Similar to a corset, the brace itself is simultaneously lonely, foreboding, and empty as it hangs.
    Blog Category:  NMWA Exhibitions
  • Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico: Capturing Death

    Posted: May 04, 2020 in NMWA Exhibitions
    Graciela Iturbide confronts what she calls “Mexico’s death fantasy” as it appears in the street, at festivals, and in the cemetery.
    A black-and-white photograph shows the back of a woman as she crests a rocky path above a vast desert landscape beneath an expansive sky. Her traditional, ethnic full skirt, long-sleeved blouse, and long, straight, dark hair contrasts with the modern portable stereo she carries.
    Blog Category:  NMWA Exhibitions
  • Graciela Iturbide and La Matanza: Ritual as Practice and Subject

    Posted: Apr 20, 2020 in NMWA Exhibitions
    Photography and its ritualistic qualities—observation, development, and selection—is a form of therapy for Graciela Iturbide. More than simply documenting moments in time, the practice offers her a way to process and understand the world.
    A black-and-white photograph shows the back of a woman as she crests a rocky path above a vast desert landscape beneath an expansive sky. Her traditional, ethnic full skirt, long-sleeved blouse, and long, straight, dark hair contrasts with the modern portable stereo she carries.
    Blog Category:  NMWA Exhibitions