A Los Angeles based artist, Alison Saar is a well-known sculptor and installation artist. Using found objects and traditional materials (bronze, wood, stone), Saar's sculptures and assemblages focus on the African American experience and gender. She often selects the nude black female body as her subject and highlights the role of history, race, and mythologies in relation to it. Saar has said of her art: “I wanted to make art that told a story, that would engage people. I wanted them to be moved by my work, whether it was specifically what my intentions were or not did not matter. I wanted them to be drawn in and affected by my sculpture.”
Saar won the nation-wide design competition and created Swing Low: Harriet Tubman Memorial, which was funded through the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs’ The Percent for Art program. Saar’s statue of Tubman was the first public monument in New York City dedicated to an African American woman. Between 2003-2007, Saar worked with various city agencies, community members, and regional officials to determine the best use of the space and the placement of her statue. In collaboration with Saar, Quennell Rothschild & Partners landscaped the former barren traffic median.
The renovated space features paving blocks and roughly hewn granite to create a natural setting. Plantings native to both New York and Tubman’s home state of Maryland represent the woods and terrain traveled by Tubman and her Underground Railroad passengers. The plaza is framed with granite seating and curbing that bears the words from the African American spiritual, Go Down Moses: “We need not always weep and mourn, O let my people go; And wear these slavery chains forlorn, O let my people go.” Tubman was said to use the song as a code to signal when she was in the area and ready to move/transport people.
Gary Brewer, “I Wanted to Make Art That Told a Story: Alison Saar on Her Eloquent Sculptures,” Hyperallergic.com, May 1, 2018, accessed May 15, 2018, https://hyperallergic.com/440597/i-wanted-to-make-art-that-told-a-story-alison-saar-on-her-eloquent-sculptures/.
“Swing Low: Harriet Tubman Memorial Sculpture is dedicated in Harlem,” NYC Parks, The Daily Plant, XXIII, no. 4831 (November 18, 2008), accessed September 26, 2016, https://www.nycgovparks.org/news/daily-plant?id=21821.