Janine A. Sytsma


Alison Saar: Between Two Worlds


The racist doctrines that were introduced to the United States during slavery have become ingrained within the social fabric of the country and continue to undermine black identity. In order to improve perceptions of black people, reformists have attempted to nullify the resultant stereotypes using counter-hegemonic discourse.

However many failed because such discourse was derived from Western dogma, and simply reinterpreted by Western society to support the pre-existing belief that black people were inferior. Since that discourse had as narrow a focus as the stereotypes it attempted to counter, it was equally oppressive, and it only further deprecated black identity.
In this paper, I will argue that the contemporary African American artist, Alison Saar, is conversely successful because she repositions stereotypical images of black people within unexpected African ideological frameworks which possess strong spiritual underpinnings. An examination of a selection of Saar’s work from the last 25 years will demonstrate that her subjects effectively transcend racism by reconnecting with their roots, and will serve to illuminate the benefits of looking outside of Western discourse generally as we attempt to reconstruct black identity


Janine A. Sytsma received her BA from Arizona State University and her MA from the University of Denver. Over the past six years she has taught at various academic institutions in Colorado, and she is currently a full-time instructor at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center and a part-time lecturer at Metropolitan State College, where she teaches courses in modern and contemporary art. She specializes in contemporary African American art and her recent research has targeted those artists who challenge Western edifices using revisionary visual discourse, which stresses the complexities of identity.