The story behind the sculptures and sketches in ‘Breach’

Earlier this week, artist Alison Saar was very much present at the Williams Center.

On Tuesday, Saar, who is the Grossman Visiting Artist, gave a lecture on her background and artwork, concluding with her current exhibit presented in the Grossman Gallery this semester called “Breach.”

When Director of Art Galleries Michio Okaya introduced Saar to the audience, she described how “Breach” explores the relationship between African-Americans and rivers, and how the Grossman Gallery’s close proximity to water, like the Bushkill Creek, made it the perfect location to house the exhibit.

In her lecture, Saar detailed her artwork, her inspiration behind it, as well as the various meanings in her work. Saar primarily creates sculptures, but also has a collection of sketches. Her sculpture “Blonde Dreams” depicts a black woman hanging upside-down with flowing, golden blonde hair. The woman in this sculpture is trying to be something she is not, Saar said. Caroline Russell ’17 also said she loves “Blonde Dreams,” saying that she feels that “in our society, hair is really valued” and that the “aspect of hair defines you.”

Hair’s significance in society is a common theme throughout Saar’s work and is explored in several pieces, including “Chaos in the Kitchen,” “Cache” and “Proclamation.” Her focus on hair in several pieces is a way to explore being biracial, Saar said. She adds that a person’s hair is a crucial aspect of their identity, which is especially demonstrated in “Chaos in the Kitchen” where she states that she likes “the fact that this hair contains a history.”

One sculpture, “Cache,” depicts a woman lying down with a gigantic ball of hair attached to her head. Saar said that this woman’s “dreams and aspirations are caught up in this three foot diameter hairball.”

Saar presented numerous of her own sculptures in her lecture, with a few other overarching themes besides hair, which include different types of mythology and using pomegranates to convey the relationship between being a woman and a mother’s connection to children.

She concluded her lecture by discussing some of the pieces specifically in her exhibit “Breach” on campus, which conveys the relationship between African-Americans and rivers, specifically in the 1920s during the Mississippi River flood. Saar also connects this exhibit to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and its impact on society, too, showing the audience the title piece of the exhibit, “Breach.” This piece connects several of Saar’s themes together in one sculpture. In this sculpture, a Mami Wata mythic-figure carries different treasures or items on her head from a flood. It connects to the Mississippi River flood and Hurricane Katrina as well, Saar said.

Saar added that “’Breach’ is the breaking,” and ultimately symbolizes her own personal artistic brand, while conveying a story of history, race and gender through these pieces.

“Breach” will be on display in the Grossman Gallery downtown until Dec. 17.

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