Excerpts from Betye Saar’s 1977 datebook, week of January 31-February 6. Image: Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California. Photo: Paul Salveson.

“Betye Saar: New Work” & “Marilyn Nance: The Women of FESTAC’77” 
Roberts Projects
442 South La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles
February 27-April 27, 2024

Roberts Projects is presenting both “Betye Saar: New Work” and “Marilyn Nance: The Women of FESTAC’77”, opening on the 24th of February. These exhibitions focus on two female artists involved in the celebration and exploration of Black culture: Betye Saar and Marilyn Nance. 

As a well-known pioneer of assemblage art, Saar’s exhibition will not only emphasize her cultural impact but maintain how much of an artistic icon she is today. Saar makes meaningful choices with her assemblage art, which are often ‘mismatched’ in its execution, but deliberate in its message. 

A key figure in the Black Arts Movement during the mid-20th century, Saar’s art drew from her personal experience, as well as the cultural history of the Black and African diaspora. Her work tends to reflect the economic, cultural, and racial circumstances surrounding her environment. 

Betye Saar, Dark Passage, 2024 / Mixed media assemblage, 11 x 13 x 3 in (27.9 x 33 x 7.6 cm), Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Saar’s work has been featured in over 80 museum collections, like The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Some of Saar’s current exhibitions include “Betye Saar: Drifting Toward Twilight” at the Art Museum & Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA, and “Entangled Pasts: 1768 – Now” at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, UK. 

Marilyn Nance, FESTAC’77 closing ceremony: USA contingent, Simba Wachanga Cultural Ensemble, 1977, Courtesy of Marilyn Nance and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California. / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

The FESTAC’77, also known as The Second World African Festival of Arts and Culture, was a month-long Pan-African Festival. The event itself took inspiration from the Olympics and other landmark biennials and included live performances, concerts, and exhibitions in their celebrations.

Coming of age during the Black Arts Movement in New York, Marilyn Nance was selected as the official photographer for the United States at FESTAC’77 when she was just 21 years old. This landmark festival brought together over 17,000 artists, writers, musicians, scholars, and activists from 55 countries across Africa and its diasporic communities to celebrate African history and culture. Now, Roberts Projects has access to more than 1,500 photographs of first-hand accounts of the festival, thanks to Nance’s work. 

Among the women documented in Nance’s photographs are Viola Burley, Carole Byard, Ajuba Douglas, Charlotte Ka, Samella Lewis, Valerie Maynard, Winnie Owens-Hart, and Faith Ringgold, among others. Their presence and contributions enrich the historical narrative of FESTAC’77, offering insight into the vibrant cultural exchange and solidarity that characterized the event.

Both exhibitions offer a captivating glimpse into Black History. Betye Saar’s thought-provoking assemblage art and Marilyn Nance’s intimate photography provide vivid portrayals of cultural expression. Roberts Projects continues its commitment to showcasing diverse voices and narratives, celebrating artistic excellence and cultural resilience.

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