The Los Angeles based artist Alison Saar has put forward a weighty contribution to Socrates Sculpture Park’s annual benefit. Weighing in at about five pounds, Umbra (2022) is a dynamic, three-colour image of a Black woman printed on the back on a cast-iron pan. Her powerful, all-white eyes bring to mind both Afrofuturistic symbols and images of Yoruba spirits, while her afro all but blocks out a blaze of circular white light, leaving the impression of a halo. Despite the cast iron’s heft, one gets the impression that the woman could be looking into or through a hand mirror at the viewer.
The work echoes Saar’s contribution to a 1988 exhibition at the Queens park, Sculptures Working, which also combined themes of femininity, domesticity and finding the magical in the mundane. Umbra was created specifically for the 2022 edition of Celebrate Socrates, the sculpture park's annual benefit event. Saar conceived the work, carving the image into linoleum and creating a screenprint on the West Coast while the 12 editions and five artist's proofs were created in New York ahead of the benefit.
Every year an artist is asked to create a limited-edition work to benefit the park, and Saar is in good company. Last year the editions were made by Guadalupe Maravilla and previous contributing artists include Miya Ando, Roxy Paine and Agnes Denes. “I’ve always been interested in the cuisine and the culinary practice,” Saar says, “and I love the dichotomy of a cast iron pan. It’s meant to nurture, to feed, to provide warmth, but it can also be violent, it can be used as a weapon.”
Saar was inspired in part by the imagery surrounding the Black Panthers, whose members are often portrayed in militaristic poses, dressed in leather jackets and holding firearms. “So much has been lost about the loving, caring side of the Panthers’ organisation. Their primary purpose was to feed kids and educate, but the media has only ever focused on the hostile and dangerous aspects,” she says. Named after the darkest part of a shadow before it begins to turn to light, Umbra shows that there is always more to see, even in the most commonplace things, if one is willing to look.
Each edition of Umbra is priced at $4,000 until the Celebrate Socrates benefit (22 September) ends, after which the price will be increased to $6,000.
Socrates Sculpture Park recently broke ground on a The Cubes, a major addition to its storied campus designed by architecture studio Lot-Ek and fashioned from shipping containers.