Summary Of Betye Saar's Outgrown Pyramid Part 1

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As the United States black power movement of the 1960’s and 70’s gained momentum, African American artists seized the scene and created pieces that reflected their history of oppression and embraced the progress towards attaining equality. Focusing on two works in particular, Betye Saar’s iconic The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972), and Richard Hunt’s sculpture the Outgrown Pyramid #1 (1973), will help uncover the plight of African American’s at that time. These artists both demonstrate a keen awareness of how their art will operate in their surrounding locations. Saar’s work controls the viewer to experience it from one perspective, while Hunt’s piece is wide open for interpretation and interaction from all sides.
In comparing these two works,
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The piece is a small boxed rectangle, about 12 inches tall by 8 inches wide, with a depth of a couple inches. The depth of the piece creates a hollow space for the assemblage to operate. The main subject is a wide flattened figure of Aunt Jemima, with a rectangular space extending from below her breasts to the flat base where she stands. Her girth is accentuated by her red dress which frames the space for a notepad within the greater red frame of the box. In contrast to this brightly colored dress, Aunt Jemima’s skin is pitch black and matches a black fist centered in the space where the notepad would be. In the notebook’s stead, Saar has placed a small painting of Aunt Jemima holding an angry caucasian white child. In this little depiction it is a sunny day and Aunt Jemima is standing in front of a picket fence, over which a bright white towel is drying — the towel frames a black fist which is a striking contrast in the center of the composition. This painting within the piece is a more realist depiction, whereas Jemima’s expression on the notebook holder is unrealistically clownish. Behind the entire notepad holder and Aunt Jemima, there is a quasi-wallpaper pattern of the standard Aunt Jemima logo, her portrait smiling with a bandana around her head. These repetitive logos create a …show more content…
While Hunt’s sculpture is composed of robust geometric shapes, with small “growths” or appendages attached, Saar’s use of shape is more subtle. From a distance, the most obvious shapes in The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972), are two rectangles, one inside of the other, centered around a black fist. The outer rectangular shape is the actual box and the inner rectangle is the space where the notepad was previously situated, creating a dialogue between the two frames. Because of the graphically powerful black fist within this frame, the inner frame seems to represent a black power that is innate and has always been. Whereas the outer frame, containing the stereotypical black nanny-maid with a rifle, is a depiction of how white society views Aunt Jemima’s decision to speak up and be liberated. Though her expression is a “standard” racist interpretation of a black woman, with crazy clownish eyes and big lips, the fact that Saar gave her a rifle opposite her broom, shows a complete reversal of roles, a submissive maid turned warrior. While the use of shape in Saar’s work is subtle, Hunt’s entire sculpture functions through meaningful shapes. The protruding rounded “growths” on the larger geometric shapes, appear like organic biomass on an overgrown industrial structure. These shapes are both reminiscent of fish

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