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AN IMPRESSIVE INSTALLATION, ALISON SAAR'S MOST RECENT exhibition "Still..." includes 10 thoughtfully placed sculptures: four glass works and six bronze and mixed media works, structured around a call-and-response system, specific to African-American congregations and Native American nations. The exhibit establishes a metaphorical scaffolding that supports a visual discussion of the "harder" issues concerning a culture rooted in racism, sexism, "colorism" (pigmentation politics), male chauvinism, white pride and contempt, and classism (personal entitlement), all falling within the index of strategies employed by Willie Lynch, a slave owner who claimed that the best way of controlling slaves was to identify, exaggerate and distort their differences, setting them against each other. Saar's work serves as a vehicle to carry the viewer through the ravages of this history with critical observation and personal disclosures, using her unique autobiography as a lens.
Like Noah Purifoy and Judson Powell before her, Saar is an urban Zen master of minimum placement for maximum effect, as is evident in Mammy Machine (2012), which refers to a kind of politically sanctioned violation of women of color or black women's bodies. By distancing a woman from her own humanity and reprogramming her as three-fifths of a human, her place in society is redefined through forced mechanistic reproductive behavior. The brown blown glass breasts hang over a tub from an apparatus like "strange fruit" on the vine. Saar's concern about personal autonomy is shared with other black women artists such as Lavialle Campbell in her series of nipple-like objects and in Senga Nengudi's wet nursing subtext in her "R.S.V.P." series.
Saar's 50 Proof (2012) is an unflinching inquiry into the parameters of identity and mixed race duality. Here the artist fashions a glass head that approximates the shape of an old soap dispenser filled halfway with a black liquid (melanin?). The piece summons archaic visions of New Orleans infamous "race clerks," "the paper bag test" and the "one drop" rule that defined blackness and multi-racial identities.
Issues surrounding the commodification, dehumanization and the personal value of women, are addressed in Weight (2012). Saar establishes a visual equation that juxtaposes a small girl on a swing next to a cotton scale, holding a set of objects that appear to have mysteriously reconstructed themselves into a loose replica of the girl.
En Pointe (2010) features a sculpture of a black woman hanging upside down with a crown of antlers on her head. Saar's recurring use of the horns and horn-like forms reference several sculptures of Richard Hunt and others by Martin Puryear.
In its commanding presence, Undone (2012) is positioned as the first and last piece one encounters upon arriving at and leaving the gallery. This Black female figure gives the illusion of hovering. She is clothed in a white cascading dress with a long red cord extending from between her legs that transforms into a mini-bottle tree, a form traditionally used in West African cultures and their "down South" American counterparts to capture the "Spirits" and remind us, in the words of Maya Angelou, "Still... I Rise!"