In 1991 Alison Saar created a series of bronze relief sculptures for the Harlem-125th Street train station in New York. Titled Hear the Lone Whistle Moan, the series includes a woman traveling to the city, a man leaving the city, and a train conductor at the top of the station’s stairs. Together, the figures reference the Underground Railroad and the movement of people in and out of New York throughout history.
Saar expanded the project in 2018, creating a series of twenty-four laminated glass panels for shelters lining the platform. Each panel of this Copacetic series depicts aspects of cultural life during the Harlem Renaissance. When seen together, it offers a panoramic view of dancers, musicians, singers, and revelers.
A year later, Saar published her Copacetic portfolio, a suite of eight multi-block linocuts that reference the Harlem-125th Street project and the Harlem Renaissance. Inspired by “the many great African American artists of the Harlem Renaissance that had active printmaking practices, such as Elizabeth Catlett, Hale Woodruff, and Aaron Douglas,” Saar’s prints reinforce Harlem’s vibrant history and enduring legacy.
Alison Saar often references Black bodies in her work with an emphasis on hair and skin color. Alienated in school from both her Black and white classmates, she describes her existence as moving between two worlds. Of African American, Irish, and Native American heritage on her mother’s side and European heritage on her father’s side, Saar’s life experiences reinforce the idea that bodies and lineage are markers of identity politics. Even though this scene seems simple, there is a connection to difference and colorism, or discrimination based on skin color within American society.