BLACK WOMEN IN AMERICA: FAITH RINGGOLD

Black women have made their mark in so many endeavors throughout their sojourn in America. The following is about a woman who is a giant in the world of art.

Her name is Faith Ringgold, and here is her story.

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Faith Ringgold (b. October 8, 1934). Born and raised in Harlem, New York City, New York, Faith Ringgold is a Black American artist who has spent her artistic career breaking boundaries and clearing spaces for Black American creativity, especially that of women.

She earned a B.A. in art and education in 1955 and an M.F.A. in 1959 at City College, New York. Dissatisfied with the traditional high art training that she received in New York and later in Europe, Ms. Ringgold reeducated herself by studying African art, reading the works of Black Arts Movement authors, and participating in the growing protest for a civil rights revolution in America. Ms. Ringgold’s paintings from this period, The Flag is Bleeding (1967), US Postage Stamp Commemorating the Advent of Black Power (1967), blend an African-inspired aesthetic of geometric shapes and flat, shadowless perspective with potent political and social protest.

Ms. Ringgold has been an outspoken critic of racial and gender prejudice in the art world. In the early 1970s she organized protests against the Whitney Museum of American Art and other major museums for excluding the works of Blacks and women. In response to the museum world’s exclusionary policies, Ms. Ringgold and other Black women artists formed a collective and organized and exhibit of their own, whose title, Where We At, announced their visibility.

Ms. Ringgold’s art focuses on Black women and Black women’s issues. Diverse works–a mural in the Women’s House of Detention in Riker’s Island, New York (1971-1972) and a performance piece using soft sculptures, The Wake and Resurrection of the Bicentennial Negro (1976) –focused on women’s ability to heal and brought her work to a wider audience.

Since the 1970s Ms. Ringgold has documented her local community and national events in life-size soft sculptures, representing everyone from ordinary Harlem denizens to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the young victims of the Atlanta child murders (1979-80). Ms. Ringgold’s expression of Black women’s experience is perhaps best captured in her “storyquilts’.

A combination of quilting and narrative text, quilts like Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima? (1982) and the series Women on a Bridge (1980) tell stories of pain and survival in a medium that Ms. Ringgold finds essentially female and empowering.

She transformed one of her quilts into a children’s book, Tar Beach, that won the 1982 Caldecott Honor Book Award and the Coretta Scott King Award. The book, Tar Beach, is based on the story quilt Tar Beach, from Ms. Ringgold’s The
Woman On A Bridge Series of 1988 and is in the permanent collection of the
Guggenheim Museum in New York City.  Her works are in permanent collections in many other museums including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

Her 1960s politically charged artwork were presented at Spelman College. The exhibit was entitled “American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s,” at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art during the months of February-May, 2012.

She has known and influenced American artists: Betye Saar, Linda Freeman, Romare Bearden, and Jacob Lawrence.

An HBO program, “Good Night Moon and Other Sleepy Time Lullabies,” that has run periodically, included an animated version of Tar Beach, and was released on DVD. Ms. Ringgold has completed sixteen children’s books including the above mentioned Tar Beach, Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad In The Sky, My Dream of Martin Luther King and Talking to Faith Ringgold, (an autobiographical interactive art book for children of all ages), The Invisible Princess, an original Black American Fairy Tale based on the quilt Born in a Cotton Field all published by Random House. If a Bus Could Talk; The Story of Ms. Rosa Parks won the NAACP’s Image Award 2000 and is available from Simon and Schuster. O Holy Night and The Three Witches, and Bronzeville Boys and Girls are from Harper Collins. Faith Ringgold’s latest children’s book is Henry O. Tanner: His Boyhood Dream Comes True published by Bunker Hill Publishing. We Flew Over the Bridge: The Memoirs of Faith Ringgold, Ms. Ringgold’s first adult book was published by Little, Brown in 1995 and has been re-released by Duke University Press.

On January 16, 2012, she created a Google Doodle featured on Google’s home page that honored Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.

An elementary and middle school in Hayward, California, Faith Ringgold School K-8, was named after her in 2007.

Ms. Ringgold was named in the Le Tigre hit song “Hot Topic.”

Today Ms. Ringgold is professor emeritus in the University of California, San Diego visual art department.

SOURCES:

“AFRICANA: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience”, Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Editors, Basis Civitas Books, 1999.

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