A Loss of Innocence

The labels sewn onto the dress in this tableau list various racial epithets for Black children, and the wooden hanger branded with the work’s title alludes to the marking of enslaved people with branding irons. This evocative installation suggests the fragile innocence that is lost—not only historically but also to this day—as Black children grow into adults facing racism in its many guises.

Betye Saar
A Loss of Innocence, 1998
Dress with printed labels, wood hanger, chair, and framed photo on block
Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California. © Betye Saar.
Photo courtesy Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale, AZ, by Tim Lanterman.