Nappy Head #1

Alison Saar American

Not on view

Alison Saar has long centered the bodies and experiences of Black women, positioning them as vessels for powers both spiritual and historical. At once richly poetic and deeply political, her mixed media collage Nappy Head #1 reclaims a derogatory term for Black women’s hair—nappy—as a symbol of authority and insurrection. The work features the head of a Black woman floating on the page. Its isolation suggests an act of violence, but it also calls to mind Saar’s own sculptures, which sometimes take the form of figurative busts. The woman here is more deity than human, an amalgamation, perhaps, of spirits borrowed from African and Afro-Caribbean religions, subjects that Saar has long studied, along with African American folklore, Greek mythology, and African art. Much of the work’s drama is concentrated in the woman’s hair, which stands upright, in defiance not just of gravity, but patriarchy and White supremacy as well. Entangled in the strands of hair, each one of which is drawn by hand in graphite, are readymade images, most of them associated with the natural world, which Saar cut from books and magazines. As exemplified by Nappy Head #1, the techniques of reuse, recycling, and salvage play an important role in Saar’s work. Deeply meaningful in and of themselves, they point to the artist’s investment in retrieving and asserting stories associated with African American life, similarly of recontextualizing and subverting racial stereotypes.

Nappy Head #1, Alison Saar (American, born Los Angeles, California, 1956), Graphite, cut and pasted printed papers on paper

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