[Art/Culture] Faith Ringgold
Meet Faith Ringgold - A groundbreaking, multi-dimensional, multi-disciplinary artist, activist, teacher, speaker and author from Harlem, New York. A revolutionary woman who fought heavily to get the work of Women and African-American artists exhibited in museums in the name of artistic equality.
Faith Ringgold was born in 1930 during the Great Depression and was raised in the creative and intellectual context of the Harlem Renaissance. Ringgold fell in love with painting as a child after her Father bought her first easel, crayons and paint. She was deeply inspired by the work of writers like Amiri Baraka and James Baldwin, and was also heavily influenced by painters like Jacob Lawrence and Pablo Picasso, she has cited Picasso's iconic Guernica as one of her favourite paintings and artistic influences.
For over five decades, Faith Ringgold has been creating art to express and chronicle her own experiences as an African-American woman through her immensely powerful and multifaceted narrative artworks. Ringgold is an innovative and compassionate painter, writer, teacher and sculptor who developed her own unique art form: Painted "story quilts", which communicated all her socio-political beliefs and shook America to it's core.
As a groundbreaking visual artist and a relentless civil rights and gender equality activist, Faith Ringgold has produced an inherently political oeuvre. For decades she has been challenging the perceptions of African American identity, the socio-political injustices against people of colour, and gender inequality through the lens of the feminist and the civil rights movements. Faith was fighting back against the oppressive powers of society with her fabric.
“I became fascinated with the ability of art to document the time, place, and cultural identity of the artist. How could I, as an African American woman artist, document what was happening around me?” ~ Faith Ringgold
Faith is best known for her iconic painted storytelling quilts - a traditional American craft that was first brought to the United States by African slaves. The quilt is associated with women's communal work and has deep roots in African culture, connected to Faith via her parents of African descent.
Faith paints in acrylic on unstretched canvas with fabric borders, a technique evoking Tibetan Thangkas (silk paintings with embroidery). These painted narrative quilt panels all follow the same theme, to highlight and ultimately denounced systemic racism and discrimination with their subject matter, revealing the absolute tyranny and inequality of society, but also the beauty.
From an early age, Faith began studying art and allied herself with a range of artists who used contemporary violence as their main subject, she was fascinated with blending art with politics to tell important stories of the now.
Faith believed that the role of African-American artists is to aid in the destruction of America as we know it by creating art for the people, for everyone, to reflect the chaotic times in which we find ourselves in.
Between 1963-1967, Faith began creating her first politically charged body of work, The American People Series, which boldly confronted and exposed the intensifying race relations and widespread carnage that was ravaging the United States throughout the 1960s during the Civil Rights Era, and culminated in her response to the Black Power movement (Below).
These mural-scale paintings possess a raw authenticity and evoke the riots and violence that were then erupting around the country. This collection asks the question "why?" about basic racial issues in American society, illustrating these racial interactions from a woman's point of view whilst portraying the American lifestyle in relation to the Civil Rights Movement.
On the canvas above, Number #20 in the American People series (which was her last, largest and most ambitious painting in the saga) ~ Faith portrays a chaotic and violent world of indiscriminate multi-racial carnage. The spatter of blood strewn across an interracial group of men, women and children, suggesting nobody is free from this racial struggle and that everyone is affected by the violence of racial oppression and segregation.
"Most artists were deterred from telling the true story of what African Americans citizens were dealing with in those days, it wasn't a good or pretty picture of America back then, and if the artists decided to show that ugly side, their work would not be shown or seen, so many of them quit art altogether, so I soon realised that I had to be the one to do it" ~ Faith Ringgold
In the 1970's, Faith's provocative work and politics embraced the Feminism and Civil Rights movements. She soon became one of the key leaders in a protest movement in New York to demand that museums and galleries implement equal gender and racial representations in there exhibitions.
Faith played a paramount role in the organisation of equality protests and actions against museums that had neglected the work of talented women and artists of colour. She designed political posters for the Black Panther party and co-organised the People’s Flag Show, for which she was arrested.
Once Faith succeeded in convincing museum curators and directors in New York to showcase more diverse work from female artists and people of colour, she was still denied a place to showcase her work. She was also rejected countless times by publishers as a children's writer, so Faith went on her own unique path that defied all expectations. She began creating her iconic painted narrative quilts which meant that she could finally "publish her writings".
Her striking fabric quilts from this period are bursting with life, they're overtly political, and present a critically charged and angry reappraisal of the American Dream through the filter of race and gender relations.
Faith's works weave profound image and writings together through the tradition of quilting, passed on through the female heritage of her family all the way from her great-great grandmother Suzi who was born into slavery.
In the 1970's, Faith would abandon traditional oil painting and began experimenting with acrylic paint on fabric canvas. Combining quilt making, genre painting and profound story telling techniques to create "The American Collection" (1997); An passionate artistic endeavour to re-write the history of African American art, emphasising the importance of family, cultural roots and the joys of artistic collaboration and celebrating her own heritage.
From the Harlem summer rooftops to the legacy of Manhattan jazz clubs, to a graffiti-filled New York subway and the radically fabulous biography of Aunt Jemima, the face of an American pancake mix brand, Ringgold’s affirmative and dazzling quilts celebrate a myriad of life, culture and aspiration.
Faith is one of the leading African-American artists who depicts America's long, odious history of violence and the tragic story of the Atlantic slave trade, while exposing the racial injustices of American Society that still exist today ~ “There’s so much freedom in Freedom of Speech, I could write whatever I wanted on my art – no one could stop me.”
As the long-standing cultural assumptions and racial prejudices persist in today's world, Faith Ringgold's work will always retains its contemporary resonance and cultural impact for future generations of African-Americans.
Faith combines personal narratives, history, artistic heritage and politics to "tell my story, or, more to the point, my side of the story”, as an African American woman living in the supposed land of the free for all. Faith Ringgold is a loving and compassionate master teacher and is beloved by millions of children all over the world for her work as the author of over 23 best selling children's books, including classics like Tar Beach (1991).
Faith became an artist in order to express the nature of her reality as an African-American woman but also to become a teacher herself. Ms Ringgold is the professor emeritus at the University of California, San Diego where she taught from 1987 until 2002. Professor Ringgold is the recipient of more than 75 awards including 22 Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts Degrees.
"Anyone can fly, all you have to do is try. That's it!"
Please visit Faith Ringgold's official website and watch the videos below ~
~ Psychic Garden