Betye Saar

A Secretary to the Spirits (for Ishmael Reed)

Betye Saar
A Secretary to the Spirits (for Ishmael Reed)
Cut and pasted papers, fabric, and ink on board
Each 15 x 10 inches (38.1 x 25.4 cm)
Gift of the Modern and Contemporary Collectors Committee, 2017.

Betye Saar met the author and activist Ishmael Reed in 1971 at the opening of a Romare Bearden exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum. She had come to the Bay Area for the group exhibition “Black Untitled II: Dimensions of the Figure” at the Oakland Museum of Art, in which five of her works were shown. In 1975, Reed commissioned Saar to create these works to illustrate his book of poems, A Secretary to the Spirits (NOK Publishers, 1978). Saar's layered approach echoes Reed's poetry, which combines references to the ancient and the contemporary, the spiritual and the mundane. The collages incorporate a range of images: The Cream of Wheat man represents the commoditization and mainstreaming of derogatory representations of African Americans; colorful fabrics reflect Saar's lifelong habit of saving fabric scraps (her mother was a seamstress); and rubber stamps and collages of stars, moons, and palmistry charts point to her interest in mysticism.

The artist (Roberts Projects, Los Angeles)
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