By the early 1970s, Saar had been collecting racist imagery for some time. Her Los Angeles studio doubled as a refuge for assorted bric-a-brac she carted home from flea markets and garage sales across Southern California, where she’s lived for the better part of her 91 years. One area displayed caricatures of black people and culture, including pancake batter advertisements featuring Aunt Jemima (the brand of which remains in circulation today) and boxes of a toothpaste brand called Darkie, ready to be transformed and reclaimed by Saar.
Emerging in the late 1800s, America’s “mammy” figures were grotesquely stereotyped and commercialized tchotchkes or images of black women used to sell kitchen products and objects that “served” their owners. These included everything from broom containers and pencil holders to cookie jars. Perversely, they often took the form of receptacles in which to place another object.
Saar’s discovery of the particular Aunt Jemima figurine she used for her artwork—originally sold as a notepad and pencil holder targeted at housewives for jotting notes or grocery lists—coincided with the call from Rainbow Sign, which appealed for artwork inspired by black heroes to go in an upcoming exhibition. In the cartoonish Jemima figure, Saar saw a hero ready to be freed from the bigotry that had shackled her for decades.
The first adjustment that she made to the original object was to fill the woman’s hand (fashioned to hold a pencil) with a gun. In her other hand, she placed a grenade. “She was seeking her power, and at that time, the gun was power,” Saar has
Into Aunt Jemima’s skirt, which once held a notepad, she inserted a vintage postcard showing a black woman holding a mixed race child, in order to represent the sexual assault and subjugation of black female slaves by white men. She collaged a raised fist over the postcard, invoking the symbol for black power. Finally, she set the empowered object against a wallpaper of pancake labels featuring their poster figure, Aunt Jemima.