Alison Saar. Coup

Alison Saar, Coup, 2006. Wood, wire, tin, and found objects, 52 x 168 x 52 inches.
Installation view of a sculpted nude woman seated with her hair braided and attatched to suitcases that are tied into a bundle by rope
Alison Saar, Coup, 2006. Wood, wire, tin, and found objects, 52 x 168 x 52 inches. San José Museum of Art. Gift of the Lipman Family Foundation, 2011.11.01. Photo by Douglas Sandberg.

Hair is an important personal and cultural symbol in Alison Saar’s work. For the artist, who is often mistaken for white, “it was always a struggle to have my African American heritage recognized. . . . the only part of me that really reflected that was my hair.”1 In her human-scaled installation Coup (2006), a woman sits in a chair, her hair woven into a ten-foot-long braid behind her that is tethered to a stack of suitcases. The word “coup” describes a successful, aggressive move (as in coup de grâce, a “blow of mercy” to put another out of their misery2) and is derived from couper, French for “to cut.” Grasping a pair of scissors in her hands, Saar’s figure is positioned to unburden herself of the baggage. When she made Coup, the artist’s two children had reached adolescence and were leaving home; she was also letting go of certain signature imagery in her artwork.3 Coup was first shown in an exhibition of the same name at LA Louver in Venice, California, where Saar placed another work nearby; Proclamation (2006), a long bronze braid severed and nailed to the wall, suggests that freedom comes with sacrifice.

  1. Alison Saar, in interview “Alison Saar: Otis Alumna 1981,” Otis Legacy Project: Interviews of Distinguished Otis Alumni, Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, March 13, 2008, video, 5:24 minutes, available at ↩︎

  2. Linda Tesner, Alison Saar: Bound for Glory (Portland, OR: Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art Lewis and Clark College, 2010), 17. ↩︎

  3. Alison Saar, artist lecture, “Duped,” at College of Fine Arts, Boston University, September 22, 2010 (posted November 1, 2010), video, 57:18 minutes, available at ↩︎