Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- Alison Saar’s artwork often explores her Black female identity and the African diaspora.
- This sculpture explores the contrasting qualities of vulnerability, strength, and femininity, as well as the balance between natural and human-made elements.
- The wire form of the sculpture looks delicate, but it is actually cast in sturdy bronze. The cage elevates the female figure, but it also imprisons her.
- The sculpture’s form is based on the “iron maiden” chamber, a torture device.
Alison Saar is a sculptor and a mixed-media and installation artist. Her artwork is influenced by African, Caribbean, and Latin American folk art and spirituality. She is the daughter of assemblage artist Beyte Saar, who was involved in the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and 1970s. This movement worked to deconstruct racism by embracing Black culture and pride. Like her mother, Saar uses various media to explore her Black female identity. Her work also focuses on the African diaspora.
Saar grew up in a California canyon, where nature was part of her everyday life. She considers natural materials essential to her work. She explored more structural, urban forms while she was working in New York City. She says that her recent work is a balance between natural and structural elements. This balance is evident in Tippy Toes, with its twiglike form and rough-hewn wooden figure and cast bronze base.
Many of Saar’s sculptures explore the contrasting qualities of vulnerability, strength, and femininity. The female figure in Tippy Toes is suspended in mid-air by what looks like a delicate crinoline. The seemingly fragile structure, however, is cast from sturdy bronze. The structure lifts the figure up, but it also confines her. The thorns on the structure suggest the figure’s painful and difficult uprising. She is elevated to a height of nearly five feet tall. This makes her appear to engage with the viewer as an equal.
The cagelike structure of Tippy Toes is based on a torture device known as the “iron maiden” chamber. The iron maiden is a casket with metal spikes inside it.
tags: environment, identity, power, perception
Resources for Teachers:
- Watch a video interview with Alison Saar from the Museum of the African Diaspora.
- Explore African American art teacher resources from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
- Watch a video about the importance of discussing women artists in the classroom.
Resources for Students: