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EASTON, PA, August 11, 2016Alison Saar weaves narratives relating to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 into the mixed-media sculpture and paintings featured in Breach” presented by Lafayette College Art Galleries Sept. 17–Dec.17 at the Richard A. and Rissa W. Grossman Gallery, Williams Visual Arts Building, 243 North Third St., Easton, Pa. During Easton’s Riverside Festival of the Arts, there will be an exhibition preview with the artist6:00 to 8:00 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 17 at the Grossman Gallery. There will be areception from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 18 for Saar and dancers who participate in the related, site-specific dance performance “Breach: Left Behind,” which takes place in the gallery at 2:00 p.m. on September 18 and again at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1.

Saar will give an artist’s talk at 4:10 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 25, at the Williams Center for the Arts, 317 Hamilton St., Easton. She will host a listening party, 7:00 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 27, in the Grossman Gallery, featuring blues music inspired by the flood and a presentation of historic photographs and maps.

The exhibition and affiliated events are free and open to the public.

For a continually-updated schedule of related lectures, performances, films, and workshops, visit

Saar, selected as the 2016-17 Richard A. and Rissa W. Grossman Artist in Residence, explores issues of gender, race, racism, and the African diaspora. She mines mythology, ritual, history, music, and her biracial heritage as sources for her work.

During a 2013 residency at the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans, Saar was dismayed to see how little had been done to rebuild African American communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina eight years earlier. Upon her return to Los Angeles, she began researching the histories of American floods and the effect on African Americans. The Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927, described as one of the worst natural river disasters in U.S. history, piqued her interest. Heavy rains resulted in the river breaching levees, creating a historic catastrophe that had a profound impact on the life of African Americans living in the Mississippi Delta. The flood exposed the conditions of poor African American sharecroppers and tenant farmers and their relationship with cotton plantation owners. The flood also resulted in social, cultural, federal policy, and political changes.

With water imagery woven throughout, “Breach” is the culmination of Saar’s creative research on American rivers and their historical relationship to the lives of African Americans. Through mixed media sculpture, paintings, and works on paper, she explores floods not only as natural phenomena; but also the complex interaction of social, cultural, and political factors associated with flooding and its aftermath.

Alison Saar
Breach, 2016
Wood, ceiling tin, found trunks, washtubs, and other objects
155 x 60 x 51 in.
Courtesy L.A. Louver
Photo © Alison Saar

The largest work in the exhibition—”Breach”—is a commanding figure from which the show takes its name. Measuring more than 12 feet tall, the life-size nude female figure steers a raft, while balancing a tower of found objects—trunks, pots, pans, and household items—on her head. Although the objects exceed her body mass, the grace and strength in her stance defy the weight she is forced to bear.

A series of acrylic paintings on quilt-like surfaces assembled from found sugar sacks, old linens, and mattress ticking portray male and female figures standing in water. Titles reference music and dances inspired by the flood, such as “Backwater Boogie” and “Muddy Water Mambo.” A selection of sculptures, charcoal drawings on found-steam trunk drawers, and an artist’s book collaboration—“mami wata (how to know a goddess when you see one)” with poet Evie Shockley (Rutgers University)—further reference music and rivers.

Alison Saar was born and raised in Laurel Canyon, Calif. She received a BA in studio art and art history from Scripps College, Claremont, Calif., and an MFA from Otis Parsons Institute (now Otis College of Art and Design). She was named one of 50 USA fellows in the United States Artists Program in 2012. Her prints are featured in a solo exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C., through Oct. 2, 2016.

For more information and gallery hours, visit

Lafayette College is located in Easton, Pa., on the Delaware River, 72 miles from New York City, and 60 miles from Philadelphia.

 Lafayette College Art Galleries and EPI receive state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Additional funds were provided through an arts infusion grant made possible by generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


High resolution photos are available on Flickr.