One of the most searing artistic experiences I’ve ever had came courtesy of Alison Saar in 2017. The Los Angeles artist was part of a group show of Black female sculptors titled “Signifying Form” at the Landing gallery in L.A.'s West Adams district, organized by independent curator jill moniz.
The show was memorable all around. But Saar’s piece, in particular, floored me. The nearly 7-foot-tall sculpture titled “Cake Walk,” from 1997, presented a larger-than-life marionette of a Black woman that the viewer can control via a system of pulleys. The title references a processional dance that originated on Southern plantations during the slavery era and would later be parodied by white performers in minstrel shows. In Saar’s piece, a firm tug on the pulleys could make the figure dance.