Tell Me Your StoryWe all have our own individual autobiographies, or stories.
Each one of us are defined by a web of influences: ancestry, culture, family, spirituality, sexuality, social class, health, politics, society, race, gender, technology, nature, etc. Did you notice a lot of this list is actually relate to the themes we already covered in the course modules? That’s because, we all have connections to many of these areas already, and so do the artists that we’ve looked at in this class.
What is autobiography in art?
Art work that is about the artist themselves- this can be about any aspect of their lives. It’s very open to interpretation, as long as the art work and the topics are about the artist. You are going to make an autobiographic artwork by gathering objects and images that tell the story of you. One Ted Talk and Betye Saar’s workTed Talk: The Danger of a Single Story
Betye Saar’s work as a reflection on her ancestry, her personal lived experience, and her own historical context.
Legendary artist Betty Saar works on multiple formats, focusing on sculptural work in the tradition of assemblage (assembling). She repurposes a lot of mediums/media. She also re-purposes themes and images; both personal and historic. Saar, lived in Los Angeles during the 60’s and 70’s, during the Civil Right Era which also was the height of the Black Panther Party Links to an external site., championing rights and equality for African Americans. This is just some of the historical context of Saar’s early work. A good deal of Saar’s work is influenced by examining American stereotypes of African American people.“My work started to become politicized after the death of Martin Luther King in 1968. But The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, which I made in 1972, was the first piece that was politically explicit. There was a community centre in Berkeley, on the edge of Black Panther territory in Oakland, called the Rainbow Sign. They issued an open invitation to black artists to be in a show about black heroes, so I decided to make a black heroine. For many years, I had collected derogatory images: postcards, a cigar-box label, an ad for beans, Darkie toothpaste. I found a little Aunt Jemima mammy figure, a caricature of a black slave, like those later used to advertise pancakes. She had a broom in one hand and, on the other side, I gave her a rifle. In front of her, I placed a little postcard, of a mammy with a mulatto child, which is another way black women were exploited during slavery. I used the derogatory image to empower the black woman by making her a revolutionary, like she was rebelling against her past enslavement. When my work was included in the exhibition ‘WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution’, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 2007, the activist and academic Angela Davis gave a talk in which she said the black women’s movement started with my work The Liberation of Aunt Jemima. That was a real thrill.”Links to an external site.Saar’s work is personal, as you see from this passage about the Gris Gris box, (I have bolded some areas to pay special attention to):”Gris-Gris Box is a boxed assemblage rooted in African American tradition, which Saar refers to as her ancestral boxes. The central figure within the box is a doll resembling an African American woman, surrounded by various ritual accoutrements, including feathers, beads, and a few spherical shapes that represent the planets. The hair suspended from the bottom of the box also references hoodoo or traditional healing practices. The ridge of the box is adorned with three eyes, important because the third eye is regarded as the inner eye in various spiritual traditions. The title suggests African American ritual practice, referencing the influence of memory, ancestry, and spirituality on the practice of art making.” Links to an external site.
Click either title to learn more: Left image: Betye Saar, “The Liberation of Aunt Jemima,” 1972. Mixed media assemblage, 11.75 x 8 x 2.75 in. (29.8 x 20.3 x 7.0 cm). Collection of the Berkeley Art Museum Links to an external site.. Right Image: Links to an external site.Betye Saar, Artist, Gris-Gris Box , 1972Links to an external site.
For this assignment, please reference:Betye Saar The Liberation of Aunt JemimaRead this article on Saar’s work: https://www.kcet.org/shows/artbound/betye-saar-reflecting-american-culture-through-assemblage-artLinks to an external site.
Read this brief description of Saar’s Gris Gris Box: https://hammer.ucla.edu/now-dig-this/art/gris-gris-boxLinks to an external site.
Read this description of Saar’s The Liberation of Aunt Jemima: http://revolution.berkeley.edu/liberation-aunt-jemima/ Links to an external site.
And any other references from the course or your own outside references.
Let’s get started!
Two Part ProjectGuidelines:Be sure to view the ted talk, read the articles and closely look at all of the images of Saar’s work, on those links. You will be making a connection back to her work, in your reflection.
Part 1: The Art
Begin by looking closely at the connections that Saar makes with her objects. This will help to understand how to make your own connections to your our objects. (Feel free to look at other artist as well, you will have to reference a connection or influence to her work or an artist that you found.)
Notice that Saar’s work has a backdrop image, with a central figure and objects on either side. This can work as a formula for planning and laying out your box, and where things will be placed.
How to start: Start collecting objects. This is a personal project about you- so introduce personal items, mementos, cultural or religious images/icons, photographs, fabrics, items that are symbolic to you and are about you. As you are gathering your items, look for a box as well.
Find objects that can be glued down (gluing is optional).
Once you have a lot of items (at least 5), including a box that they will go in, play around with the “placement”, composition/layout. Don’t glue anything down yet!
Before you glue anything down, make a plan.Mentally walk through your project- ask yourself, what will I do first, second, last, etc.
Address the background first, paint it, glue down some fabric, etc. Finish the background first (trust me, this will make it so much easier)
Place your foreground objects second (gluing, stitching down)
Side objects or smaller objects near the front should go last
Once you have a plan, start!
I understand that you may not have paint or fabric, or glue- so, do your best, and maybe there’s another alternative for those materials. How about using decorative tape to cover (instead of paint or fabric), or nail polish (for paint).
I LOVE to see what students come up with, be creative!
Yup- creativity is key!
The rules and some tips:All completed boxes should be no larger that an 8in. x 10 in. “shadow box”, and no smaller than a normal sized Altoid’s mint container. An old jewelry box, cigar box, eye glass box could work…
All completed boxes should be completely covered with paint or fabric (unless the box itself is interesting to look at)- naked cardboard or un-painted shoe box will not work- unless it is about your story.
There is a lot of creative freedom for what you can include to discuss “you”! Use it!
Personalize, discuss your background, culture, religion, etc- what ever you feel is important to your story.
Part 2: the reflection
In a one page summary or video/audio response of up to 8 minutes, discuss the following:
How were you able to discuss your own personal story?
Discuss your objects in your story.images/objects that you used and…
how each image/object describes your story
Personally reflect on this project and the process. Did you have any hurdles or triumphs that you wish to share?
Make a connection to another artist, or Saar’s work: this can be the influence of culture/politics/history, etc- or the influence of her “arrangement of objects”. Feel free to do some personal investigation into other artists!
Tell Me Your StoryWe all have our own individual autobiographies, or stories. Ea
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Tell Me Your StoryWe all have our own individual autobiographies, or stories.
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