Zerpenta Dambullah: Born under the shade of a black willow tree in New Orleans in 1826 sat on a rock turning rain into tobacco smoke, 2019.
Lezley Saar (American, born 1953)
Acrylic on fabric with fringing, braided tassels, and curtain rod, 68 x 40 in. Crocker Art Museum purchase with funds provided by Emily Leff and James Davis III, 2019.98. Photo: Agust Agustsson, courtesy of Walter Maciel Gallery.

This painting on fabric is shaped like a gonfalon, a flag often associated with coats of arms and ceremonies such as graduations. Elements of portraiture mix with mythology in the painting’s title and in the figure’s depiction. The snake coiled high on top of the figure’s head suggests images of Medusa, a Gorgon of Greek myth, who had snakes for hair and could turn anything to stone.

Like her mother Betye Saar (born 1926), Lezley Saar imparts the titles of her artwork with significant meaning. Each piece, which is often a portrait, is “named” rather than “titled” and typically carries with it a short description of the figure. Lezley Saar is drawn to outcast characters that appear in literature and individuals who were forced to exist in two worlds during different historical eras. Often working in collage and painting, she mixes mythology and literature into a visual narrative.

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