About this artwork
Betye Saar began her career as a printmaker in Los Angeles in the 1960s, incorporating metaphysical elements from a wide range of sources including phrenology, palm reading, and astrology. In the 1970s she started to incorporate imagery from Africa and the African diaspora, creating iconic works such as her assemblage The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972; Berkeley Art Museum) that appropriated racially offensive characters of the Jim Crow era to evoke and debunk stereotypes associated with blackness.
Eshu (The Trickster) was inspired by Saar’s visit to Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History in 1970. Deeply impressed with the multitude of African objects she encountered, Saar returned home to start a new series of “ritual pieces” that she described as “mojos.” The titles of the work and the series are of African origin: Eshu is the trickster god of the Yoruba people of West Africa, known for his unpredictability and disruptive pranks, and mojo, in the artist’s words, “is a term referring to a magical amulet or charm that either works magic or heals.” To create this assemblage, Saar adhered fabric to a found leather support. “When I saw the main shape,” Saar reflected, “I knew I wanted to create a body.” She traced the contours of her own hands and feet in paint onto the surface to conjure an abstract version of Eshu and underscore the role of the artist as a conduit between the occult and intangible aspects of her art and their material manifestations.
- Currently Off View
- Contemporary Art
- Betye Saar
- Eshu (The Trickster)
- Painted leather and fabric
- 102.2 × 96.5 × 0.6 cm (40 1/4 × 38 × 1/4 in.)
- Nancy Lauter McDougal and Alfred L. McDougal Fund