Image: Groovin High. 1986. Acrylic on canvas, tie-dyed, pieced fabric border, 56 x 92 in. Courtesy of Faith Ringgold
Black artist and activist, Faith Ringgold, has dedicated her life and practice to amplifying the struggle for justice and equity of Black people, particularly Black women, in the United States.
Back in Selvedge Issue 04, Catherine Harper wrote: 'Faith Ringgold was born in 1930 and raised in New York, experiencing the double politicisation of a black urban woman at the genesis of feminism and the birth of Black power. As a young female artist in the early 1960s, Ringgold felt the full, forceful effect of the Civil Rights movement and the first wave of US feminist activism. These turbulent and energising influences were reflected at that early point in her artistic career in her adoption of bold, graphic images in dark colours and her desire to represent black faces, cultures and histories in a visual culture almost exclusively drawn from European white male tradition.'
Indeed, throughout her long career, Ringgold has fought for greater inclusion and representation: "I continued to make my work an expression of my freedom as a woman, as a Black woman." Quite simply, Lisa Farrington says, "Faith Ringgold has opened the door for Black women artists."
Image: Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima? 1983. Acrylic on canvas, dyed, painted and pieced fabric, 90 x 80 in. Courtesy of Faith Ringgold.
Bringing together fifty years of work, the de Young museum, in San Francisco, is currently showing the most comprehensive exhibition to date of Faith Ringgold’s ground-breaking vision. Featuring works from across Ringgold’s best-known series, the show tracks the development of her figurative style as it evolved to meet the urgency of political and social change. From creating some of the most indelible artworks of the civil rights era to challenging accepted hierarchies of art versus craft through her experimental story quilts, Ringgold has produced a body of work that bears witness to the complexity of the American experience.
Of the story quilt, the unique medium Ringgold is credited with creating, she says: "It had a lot to do with being a woman, and it had a lot to do with borrowing from the African American women, the tradition of quilt making". Helping to "release" the quilt from its former low-art status, by sewing soft pictures, with narrative imagery and colourful motifs, she persists in making a strong and memorable impact. As she says, "An artist has a right to decide that any kind of material is useful in creating their art."
Image: Jazz Stories. Mama Can Sing, Papa Can Blow #1: Somebody Stole my Broken Heart. 2004. Acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border. Courtesy of Faith Ringgold.
Faith Ringgold: American People is showing at the de Young museum until 27 November, 2022.
A short film in which Ringgold talks about the exhibition and her work is available to view here.