Alison Saar (1956-)
Ceiling tin, nails and copper
Overall: 82 1/2 × 83 7/8 × 2 1/2 in. (209.6 × 213 × 6.4 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee
Rights and Reproductions Information
© Alison Saar
A spread-eagled, larger-than-life human form fixed to the wall with fifty-three nails, Skin/Deep is a brutal image of a flayed body seen from behind that evokes the horrors of torture. Made in response to the 1991 beating of motorist Rodney King by members of the Los Angeles Police Department, its referential scope extends to generations of individuals who have been subjected to physical hurt or psychic harm as a result of their skin color. The work’s material—old stamped ceiling tin—has an informal quality that, like the grotesque, defenseless appearance of the figure itself, is made to seem intentionally out of place in a museum context. Alison Saar draws on personal experience (she is of mixed-race heritage) as well as her research into representations of racial stereotypes to investigate how attributions of racial identity can expose unexamined prejudices, often to painful, damaging effect. Nevertheless, Skin/Deep may come with a subtle message of salvation and healing: not only does the figure recall a crucifix, but its flattened form also echoes the stamped metal retablos, often representing body parts, which are used in certain Latin American Catholic traditions to ward off afflictions.