Shifting Perspectives

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Betye Saar. The Divine Face and Hand. 1971

Acrylic, gouache, and ink on paper, 14 3/8 × 9" (36.5 × 22.9 cm). Promised gift of Candace King Weir. © Betye Saar, courtesy the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles

Taneisha Bailey: Hello everyone. My name is Taneisha Bailey. I'm a multimedia, mixed media artist, currently attending New York City College of Technology. We're looking at The Divine Face and Hand by Betye Saar.

One of the things that stood out to me most about Betye was the fact that she was an avid traveler. She liked to visit different countries and continents and explore and dive into the cultures. Along her journey, she found her spirituality and was able to take what she learned from different environments and different cultures and interpret that into her own work, but specifically from the eyes of a Black woman.

It makes me feel connected to her artwork, in a sense. Like, okay, I can see where she's coming from. You know, she's a woman, I'm a woman, she's an artist, I'm an artist. She's a person of color, so am I. So to see her interpretation of what the divine could be, it makes me feel empowered, knowing that I'm not the only person who views the divine in this way.

In this particular piece, I think that the divine is represented as someone who sees all. There’s a sun that's aligned centered. It has this face and there's sun rays coming out of the face. One eye is looking up and then the other is looking down. And that's kind of how the divine works, right? They watch over you, they look over you.

I feel like the handprint symbolizes the divine, but the divinity of a Black person, sort of like a Black consciousness. With this
Black palm, I'm in control of everything that's around me.

Betye Saar said, "To me, the trick is to seduce the viewer. If you can get the viewer to look at a work of art, then you might be able to give them some sort of message."

This artwork definitely taught me a lot about the way that I would want to approach my own creative works. Do I just want to paint something that's just nice and pretty? Or do I want to paint something with a purpose and a message?