Know Your Servant Series #1: North American Waitress, Coffee Shop Variety

Martha Rosler

Brooklyn, New York, USA, 1943
  • Series: 
    Know Your Servant
  • Date: 
    1976 / Vintage print
  • Technique: 
    Chromogenic print on paper mounted on paperboard
  • Descriptive technique: 
    Polyptych consisting of seven elements: photographs, diagrams and texts
  • Dimensions: 
    Overall: 95 x 163 cm
  • Edition/serial number: 
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Multiple artwork

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The work of Martha Rosler, in the field of conceptual art, is about direct involvement in social and political themes, often through analysis of everyday relationships and situations, and frequently focusing on gender issues. She uses a variety of media: video, performance, installations, photography and text. In statements, Rosler has spoken of a need to create critical art in order to fight back against the erosion of “democratic rights under pressure of economic warfare.”
The work Know Your Servant Series #1: North American Waitress, Coffee Shop Variety, combines images and text to present a critical view of the protocols surrounding the job of coffee shop waitress in the USA. Alongside a series of photographs and diagrams, Rosler presents panels of text listing what is required of the ‘ideal’ waitress (in terms of both behaviour and appearance) taken from professional manuals used in hotel and catering colleges and on training courses. Rosler adds her own comments such as “Her hairdo is not more stylish than yours” or “She is not more glamorous than you”. The irony of the whole lies in the juxtaposition of these pre-existent elements with an actual photograph of a waitress in 1976. The premise of the piece is that the conditions imposed upon an aspiring waitress are yet another form of alienation and objectification of women, serving as a reminder that in any commercial relationship with the customer, her status must in each and every case be on a lower rung. Rosler produces a strong critique here of business logic and its role in the erosion of human dignity.

Concha Calvo Salanova