Supreme Quality

In Supreme Quality, Saar shows Aunt Jemima as a gun-toting figure. At the same time, she is surrounded by accoutrements of feminine labor. A clock whose hands have been replaced by an American flag can be found on the back of the work, suggesting the unending nature of the mammy’s tasks. The inscription, “Extreme Times Call for Extreme Heroines,” which appears on a number of Saar’s assemblages, may refer to a controversial essay published in 1997 in The International Review of African American Art. Titled “Extreme Times Call for Extreme Heroes,” the text, in which Saar is quoted, addresses the incorporation of racist imagery into works by contemporary Black artists.

Betye Saar
Supreme Quality, 1998
Washboard with stenciled lettering, soap bar with
printed paper label, metal figurine with toy guns,
tin washtub, fabric, clock, and wood stand
Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles. © Betye Saar.
Photo courtesy Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale, AZ, by Tim Lanterman.