I’ll Bend But I Will Not Break


This tableau directly addresses issues of race and women’s work. The image on the ironing board—itself a traditional symbol of female labor—is borrowed from a well-known eighteenth-century print showing scores of Africans packed into a slave ship to cross the Atlantic. Saar’s construction also refers to the marking of enslaved people with branding irons, and to their enchainment in transit or as punishment. The “KKK” appliquéd to the sheet denotes the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan, still active today in the United States. According to Saar, this work communicates “the political message that you can treat me as a slave and I’ll bend down—I’ll bend down to pick cotton, I’ll bend to do this, to be a laborer—but I will not break.

Betye Saar
I’ll Bend But I Will Not Break, 1998
Ironing board with printed images and text, flat iron, chain, bedsheet with appliqués, wood clothespins, and rope
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of Lynda and Stewart Resnick through the 2018 Collectors Committee. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California.© Betye Saar.
photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

Audio: LACMA