Although Faith Ringgold is best known as the originator of the African-American story quilt revival that began in the 1970s, it is her pointed political paintings of the 1960s that are the focus of American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgolds Paintings of the 1960s, on view at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art
through May 19, 2012. This is Ringgolds first solo exhibition in Atlanta since the High Museum presented the nationally-touring exhibition, Faith Ringgold: A Twenty-Five Year Survey in 1990.
The Ringgold exhibition is in keeping with the Spelman College Museum of Fine Arts mission to emphasize art by and about women of the African Diaspora. This year, the season of the Museums 15th anniversary, we have deliberately highlighted works from our permanent collection including Ringgolds quilt Groovin High, which is one of the Colleges signature works, said Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, Museum director. It is a privilege to present a solo exhibition featuring the work of an artist who has salient links to the permanent collection and whose influential efforts and advocacy for women artists made it possible for such a museum to even exist.
With only a few notable exceptions, Ringgolds once influential paintings disappeared from view and were omitted from critical, art historical discourse for more than 40 years. Coordinated to coincide with Ringgolds 80th birthday, the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art exhibition includes approximately 60 works from the landmark series American People (1963-1967) and Black Light (1967-1971), along with a related mural and political posters. American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgolds Paintings of the 1960s was co-curated by Thom Collins, director of the Miami Art Museum, and Tracy Fitzpatrick, curator at the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, SUNY, where the exhibition opened to critical acclaim.
We are very pleased to be a programming partner for the Faith Ringgold exhibition, said Dr. Collette Hopkins, director of Education and Public Programs at NBAF. In conjunction with this important exhibition, NBAF will present two events at the Camille Cosby Center at Spelman, Dr. Hopkins added. We will present a discussion on collecting African-American art with Halima Taha, author of Collecting African American Art: Works on Paper and Canvas, on Sunday, Feb. 19, at 3 p.m. in the Museum. Then on Saturday, March 17, at 1 p.m., we will present a community program featuring Mama Koku, NBAFs official storyteller. Mama Koku will bring Faith Ringgolds award-winning childrens book, Tar Beach to life. Both events are free and open to the public with pre-registration.
American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgolds Painting of the 1960s
In Faith Ringgolds words, American People is about the condition of black and white America and the paradoxes of integration felt by many black Americans. Her two earliest series, American People (1962-1967) and Black Light (1967-1969), have not been seen together since they were first exhibited in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In both series, the artist explores the issues that were at the forefront of her experience of racial conflict in the United States. In Big Black (1967), from the Black Light series, Ringgold celebrates the tonal range of African-American skin by creating several abstracted studies of facial features suggested by African masks. In one of her most compelling works, Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger (1969), also from the Black Light series, she incorporated the image of the American flag. She once explained to an interviewer: It would be impossible for me to picture the American flag just as a flag, as if that is the whole story. I need to communicate my relationship with this flag based on my experience as a black woman in America.
It was through these paintings, posters and murals from the 1960s that Ringgold found her political voice, along with the artistic tools with which to express it.
More broadly, these works are critical to re-conceptualizing our understanding of artistic production in the 1960s, said exhibition co-curator Fitzpatrick. In a period defined by the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, it is incongruous that the art of the period is defined by the rather sterile movements of Pop art and Minimalism, movements that arguably fail to connect with the social and political circumstances of the time. Faith Ringgolds work offers not only clear perspective on that turbulent moment in the history of our country, but also insight into what it meant to be an African American woman working as an artist at the time.