Visual Strategies of Uprooting

<i>Swing Low: Harriet Tubman Memorial</i>

In discussing her visual strategies for the memorial, Alison Saar stated, “Since I’m not exactly a representational artist, I worried about how to present Tubman. There are only a few known images of her from when she was in her ‘70s or ‘80s. At one point, someone on the arts committee encouraged me to ‘do what you need to do; don’t compromise on your image.’ That was nice: A lot of times it’s the other way around. In the end, [Tubman] was a mixture of how I envisioned her (within my own style) and how she might’ve actually looked like.”[1]

In order to derive a historical sense of Harriett Tubman as a person, Saar conducted extensive research, having learned about Tubman as a child in the 1960s but feeling that her knowledge of the freedom fighter was superficial: “What I wanted to do was depict outwardly her inward spirit of compassion, and her fearlessness. The piece started taking on this image of a locomotive–this unstoppable locomotive–because despite all these efforts and bounties on her, she managed to continue her work. Even beyond the Civil War she continued to do other things. That’s sort of where the train-like image of her petticoat came from, wanting to talk about that fierce, relentless spirit that she had.”[2]