Faith Ringgold’s American People, 1962-1988

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930, is a Black artist who has worked in mixed media since the 1970s. 

The New Museum, NY exhibited a selection of the 50 odd years of her work in 2022.

 

 

Born and raised in Harlem in the vibrant milieu of the Harlem Renaissance, Faith Ringgold worked first as an art teacher in New York public schools after her graduation in art education from City College, NY.

 

 

 

Faith Ringgold, 1977, oil paint on canvas, and detail. 

Alice Neel, 1900-1984.  Private collection on loan to Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19

 

 

The artist’s subjects have been the experience of the politics and relationships of her tumultuous times:

 

racial, class, and gender discrimination in her country and among her own people;  and the fights for equality

 

 

 

Change 2: Faith Ringgold’s One Hundred Pound Weight Loss Performance Story Quilt, 1988; photoetching on silk with cotton with printed and pieced fabric.

 

 

feminism and what it means for artists, for women prisoners, for her daughters

 

the use of crafts (‘women’s work’) in the creation of art

 

 

as above

 

 

the fight for liberation and self-determination in Africa and elsewhere

 

the strength of matrilineality as a tool and practice for surviving and flourishing. Quilt-making was taught to the artist by her mother, Willi Posey. The tradition was passed on by her great-grandmother, Susie Shannon, a slave.

 

 

 

Change 3: Faith Ringgold’s One Hundred Pound Weight Loss Performance Story Quilt, 1991; acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Loaned to the New Museum, NY in 2022 by Glenstone Museum, Potomac, MD 

 

 

a debt to and a grievance against the European (French) modernist art tradition. 

 

 

 

As above

 

 

The artist’s work is as nuanced, multi-layered and as complex as her life has been and as the United States is -inevitably-

 

 

 

As above

 

And always there is overarching threat of personal and institutional violence in the lives of certain Americans. 

 

 

This is a threat about which the New Museum felt it necessary to warn foreigners and American fortunates who live without the continuous threat of violence:

 

 

 

 

 

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In the American People series, the artist, in a style she called ‘super real’, sought to depict the tense ambiguities and the hypocrisies of life as the Civil Rights movement took hold.

 

 

 

American People #15, They Speak No Evil, 1962, oil on canvas.

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930. On exhibit at the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

American People Series #1, Between Friends, 1963, oil on canvas. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930. Neuberger Museum of Art, State University of NY loan to the New Museum, NY, in 2022

Tension surfaces in an interracial friendship.

 

 

 

 

American People Series #2:  For Members Only, 1963, oil on canvas. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Loan by the artist and her gallery to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

A childhood memory of a trip by the artist’s Sunday school to a park in Yonkers, NY where a group of white men with sticks demanded the children ‘return home’.

 

 

 

 

American People Series #3: Neighbours, oil on canvas, 1963. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  On exhibit at the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

 

American People Series #4:  The Civil Rights Triangle, 1963, oil on canvas. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Glenstone Museum, Potomac, MD loan to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

The artist has explained that in 1963 the only Black artist showing in New York’s main gallery distirct was Jacob Lawrence.

That same year, Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, Charles Alston and Hale Woodruff formed ‘Spiral’, a collective of Black artists.

The artist’s application to join was rebuffed.  Instead she received patronizing advice on technical matters from Romare Bearden who advised her to continue to work hard.

The men of Spriral eventually invited one sole woman to join:  Emma Amos.  Faith Ringgold herself was never invited and was never invited into the White commercial gallery scene either.  Even if she did co-operate with the co-operative Spectrum Gallery in 1966. 

 

In this work, the artist is also questioning the apparent need (or eventuality) of ‘approval’ by Whites of the Civil Rights movement.

 

 

 

 

American People Series #5, Watching and Waiting, 1963, oil on canvas.

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Loaned by the artist and her gallery to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

 

American People Series #8:  The In Crowd, oil on canvas, 1964. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Private collection loan to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

Early Works #25: Self-Portrait, 1965, oil on canvas. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Brooklyn Museum, NY loan to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

 

American People Series #17: The Artist and His Model, 1966, oil on canvas. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Private collection loan to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

American People Series #15:  Hide Little Children, oil on canvas, 1966. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Private collection loan to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

 

American People Series #16: Woman Looking in a Mirror, 1966, oil on canvas. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Private collection loan to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

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Die.  American People Series #20, oil on canvas, 1967, and details.

Faith Ringgold, born 1930, American.  MOMA, NY

 

 

 

 

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American People Series #18:  The Flag is Bleeding, 1967, oil paint on canvas. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Private loan to Brooklyn Museum, NY in 2018/19

 

 

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The artist’s early experiment with US America Black was inspired by the bold designs originated in the 17th century in Kuba textiles.

 

 

‘Black Light is the artist’s name for an aesthetic and tonal program which evolved from Faith Ringgold’s

commitment to and solidarity with the  independence of formerly colonized African nations. 

 

The colour scheme is a translation of the radical politics of self-definition and self-determination. 

 

The colour scheme almost totally eliminates white and uses dark green, blue, reds, orange and grey pigments on a matte black ground. 

 

These represent the range of undertones of skin colour.

 

 

 

Black Light Series 3.1: Invisible Man, 1968, oil on canvas.

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930. Loaned by the artist and her gallery to the New Museum in 2022.

 

 

 

 

Black Light Series #1: Big Black, 1967, oil on canvas.

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Perez Art Museum, Miami, FL loan to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

Black Light Series #11: USA America Black, 1969, oil on canvas. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Loaned to the New Museum in 2022 by the artist and her gallery.

 

 

 

Black Light Series #4:  Mommy and Daddy, 1969, oil  on canvas.

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Loaned by the artist and her gallery to the New Museum in 2022

 

 

 

Black Light Series #12:  Party Time,1969, acrylic on canvas. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Glenstone Museum, Potomac, MD loan to the New Museum in 2022

 

 

 

 

Black Light Series #9: American Spectrum, 1969, oil on canvas.

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  JPMorgan Chase Art Collection loan to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

 

All Power to the People, 1970, cut and pasted coloured paper, pencil and presstype on paper.

  Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Private collection loan to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

Faith Ringgold has been a feminist since the 1970s and active in the Civil Rights movement. 

Her first public art commission was made for the women incarcerated at the Women’s Correctional Institute at Riker’s Island. 

 

In collaboration with themes suggested by the women imprisoned at the time – ‘a road out of here’, freedom, justice – she created a collage of women of different ages, classes and races. 

 

They are working in occupations formerly exclusively male. 

 

The format is an expression of the Kuba- textile-based format she had experimented with previously. 

 

The work remained in place until the facility became all-male.  Considered ‘unsuitable’ for this population, it was whitewashed, then retrieved and restored. 

Moved to another woman’s prison on the island, it is now on long-term loan at the Brooklyn Museum.

Rikers Island prison is to be demolished in 2027.

 

 

from the website of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY

For the Women’s House, 1971, oil on canvas. (The gallery is reflected in the second image here)

  Faith Ringgold, American born 1930. Loaned by the Brooklyn Museum/New York City Department of Corrections to the New Museum in 2022

 

 

 

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Tanka-like creations in which the artist’s paintings are surrounded with pieced fabrics made by her mother. 

 

The subjects are the artist, pregnant, and her two daughters transposed to a verdant, antique African landscape; on the verge of capture and alarmed. 

 

 

 

 

 

Slave Rape #1, Fear Will Make You Weak, 1972

Slave Rape #2, Run You Might Get Away, 1972

Slave Rape #3, Fight To Save Your Life

All are oil on canvas surrounded by fabric.

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930. Glenstone Museum, Potomac, MD

 

 

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The artist visited West Africa in 1976 and 1977.

 

She adapted the masquerade, drama, dance, music, costume, sculpture which she found among the Dan people for the performance in which the soft sculpture below was first used.

 

The soft sculpture below was used during the Bicentennial year in a performance staged in a church. 

 

Costumed college students performed the story of Bubba who died of a drug overdose; and his wife, Bena, who died of grief.  The story proceeds to their ultimate rebirth and awakening. 

 

 

The Wake and Resurrection of the Bicentennial Negro, 1975-89, mixed media.

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Loaned by the artist and her gallery to the New Museum in 2022

 

 

Faith Ringgold, excluded from commercial white galleries in New York and from the professional opportunities which some of her Black male peers made for themselves,

 

bypassed them by sending her soft sculptures and some of her tanka paintings in ‘travelling art trunks’.

 

These works were widely displayed and discussed on university campuses.

 

 

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The artist has created more than 100 story quilts.

 

These stories are autobiographical and fictional. The subject matter is Black life in the world.

 

In her painted and sewn imagery, the artist included detailed texts.  These evoke the traditions of folk tales and oral history. 

The artist experimented with textiles throughout the 1970s.  She made her first painted quilt in 1980.

 

 

 

Echoes of Harlem, 1980; printed and pieced fabric and acrylic on cotton canvas. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Studio Museum in Harlem, NY loan to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

A first quilt and made with her mother.  Harlem is the artist’s birthplace.  

 

 

 

 

Mother’s Quilt, 1983; acrylic, appliqued and embroidered fabric and sequins. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Private collection on loan to the New Museum in 2022

 

Made in memory of her mother who had recently died, the quilt incorporates swatches which they had set aside to use in future projects.

 

 

 

Street Story Quilt portrays three moments in time in the life of a Harlem walk-up. 

 

In the texts, a woman called Gracie speaks of the life of a young man called A.J.  A.J lives a difficult life of poverty and discrimination even if, 30 years later, he is triumphant.

 

 

 

Street Story Quilt, Parts I-III: The Accident, the Fire, and the Homecoming, 1985; cotton canvas, acrylic paint, ink marker, dyed and printed cotton, and sequins sewn to a cotton flannel backing. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Metropolitan Museum of Art loan to the New Museum in 2022

 

 

 

 

Church picnic, 1988, tie-dyed and printed fabrics, and acrylic on cotton canvas. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  High Museum, Atlanta, GA loan to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

A cycle of quilts:The Bitter Nest

The artist tells a story in different settings and from the points of view of the different protagonists involved.

 

The story is of a Black middle class and educated family in Harlem between 1915 and the mid-1950’s. 

 

Cee Cee and her studious daughter Celia

 

whose affections and frictions reflect their times and the usual goings on between mothers and daughters. 

 

The artist has two daughters and this is both fiction and autobiographical narrative.

 

 

The Bitter Nest, Part I: Love in the School Yard, 1988; acrylic on canvas with printed, dyed and pieced fabric. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Loaned by the Phoenix Art Museum to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

 

The Bitter Nest, Part II: The Harlem Renaissance Party, 1988; acrylic on canvas with printed, dyed and pieced fabric. 

  Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Loaned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

 

The Bitter Nest, Part III, Lovers in Paris, 1988; acrylic on canvas with printed, dyed and pieced fabric. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Loaned by the artist and her gallery to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

 

The Bitter Nest , Part V:  Bitter Homecoming, 1988; acrylic on canvas with printed, dyed and pieced fabric. 

Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Loaned by the Currier Museum of Art, New Hampshire to the New Museum, NY in 2022

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Faith Ringgold’s American People, 1962-1988

  1. I agree with you, Tish. A book in fabric about the fabric of her life!
    And, happy birthday month to you, Tish. Thinking of you all in your own tumultuous times…..

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