• Betye Saar: The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, 1972; mixed media; 11 3/4 x 8 x 2 3/4 in.; BAMPFA, purchased with the aid of funds from the National Endowment for the Arts (selected by The Committee for the Acquisition of Afro-American Art).
  • Anjuli Lebowitz
  • Dr. Cherise Smith
  • Dr. Lizzetta LeFalle-Collins
  • Ra Malika Imhotep

Betye Saar’s The Liberation of Aunt Jemima: A Fiftieth Anniversary Close-Up

This event will be presented as a Zoom webinar.

In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Betye Saar’s The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, created in 1972 and a highlight ofthe BAMPFA collection, artists and scholars explore the evolving significance of this iconic work. Framed and moderated by Dr. Cherise Smith, the colloquium features performance artist and writer Ra Malika Imhotep, art historian and curator Lizzetta LeFalle-Collins, and photography curator Anjuli Lebowitz. Saar contributes a written interview about The Liberation of Aunt Jemima.

Dr. Cherise Smith is the Joseph D. Jamail Endowed Professor in African American Studies and chair of the Department of African & African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas, where she is the founding executive director of the Art Galleries at Black Studies.  Among her major publications is the award-winning Michael Ray Charles: Studies in Blackness,which places the artist’s work in the context, among others, of the collecting of Black “memorabilia.” Smith historically frames and addresses the iconography of Saar’s artwork.

Ra Malika Imhotep, a Black feminist writer and performance artist, is currently a postdoctoral fellow in dance studies at UC Riverside. She performs Shrine of the Black Madama,which meditates on the legacies of Nancy Green, the cook, storyteller and anti-poverty activist hired to embody Aunt Jemima at the 1890 World’s Fair.

Dr. Lizzetta LeFalle-Collins is an art historian and curator who has done seminal work on Saar, including the major 1995 exhibition and publication Betye Saar: Personal Icons and the essay “Memories of Mammy” in Sounds and Gestures of Recollection: Art and the Performance of Memory. She addresses The Liberation of Aunt Jemima in terms of assemblage and questions what is missing from its characterization as a black-Black mammy.

Anjuli Lebowitz is the inaugural Judy Glickman Lauder Associate Curator of Photography at the Portland Museum of Art. Previously, she contributed to projects at the National Gallery of Art (including Gordon Parks: The New Tide, 1940–1950), the Museum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she curated Faith and Photography: August Salzmann in the Holy Land. Lebowitz addresses the influence of The Liberation of Aunt Jemima throughout photographic production from the 1970s forward, which has opened photographic conversations around inherited expectations and erasures of Black femininity.