Betye Saar, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, 1972

27 Sep

Women artists, such as Betye Saar, challenged the dominance of male artists within the gallery and museum spaces throughout the 1970s. Organizations such as Women Artists in Revolution and The Gorilla Girls not only fought against the lack of a female presence within the art world, but also fought to call attention to issues of political and social justice across the board. Betye Saar addressed not only issues of gender, but called attention to issues of race in her piece The Liberation of Aunt Jemima. Even though civil rights and voting rights laws had been passed in the United States, there was a lax enforcement of those laws and many African American leaders wanted to call this to attention. Through the use of the mammy and Aunt Jemima figures, Saar reconfigures the meaning of these stereotypical figures to ones that demand power and agency within society.

The background of The Liberation of Aunt Jemima is covered with Aunt Jemima advertisements while the foreground is dominated by a larger Aunt Jemima notepad holder with a picture of a mammy figure and a white baby inside. The larger Aunt Jemima holds a broom in one hand and a rifle in the other, transforming her from a happy servant and caregiver to a proud militant who demands agency within society. A large, clenched fist symbolizing black power stands before the notepad holder, symbolizing the aggressive and radical means used by African Americans in the 1970s to protect their interests. Aunt Jemima is transformed from a passive domestic into a symbol of black power. She has liberated herself from both a history of white oppression and traditional gender roles.


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