5 Fast Facts: Faith Ringgold

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Faith Ringgold (b. 1930), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

Faith Ringgold discusses her work on view at NMWA in the 2013 exhibition American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s; Photo: Laura Hoffman, NMWA

1. Get Real

Faith Ringgold considers her “American People” series, begun in the summer of 1963, the start of her mature artistic work. Using a style she called “Super Realism,” Ringgold explored what was happening to black people in the United States and commented upon the Civil Rights movement from a woman’s point of view.

2. Let Me Demonstrate

In 1968, when the Whitney Museum of American Art neglected to include any African American artists in its exhibition of 1930s sculpture, Ringgold helped organize demonstrations. She later co-founded the Ad Hoc Women’s Art Committee, agitating for equal inclusion of women artists in the Whitney Biennial. In 1971 she co-founded the Where We At Black Women Artists collective, a socially conscious group seeking more exhibition opportunities for black women.

3. Tell Me a Story

Ringgold’s famed story quilts were inspired by her fashion-designer mother and Tibetan thangkas (paintings on cloth framed with brocade). She draws on traditions of quilt-making to tell stories about herself and the African American experience more broadly. Her quilts pay tribute to a range of historical time periods and noted cultural figures such as Jacob Lawrence, Josephine Baker, and Zora Neale Hurston.

Faith Ringgold, American Collection #4: Jo Baker’s Bananas, 1997; Acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border, 80 1/2 x 76 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Purchased with funds donated by the Estate of Barbara Bingham Moore, Olga V. Hargis Family Trusts, and the Members’ Acquisition Fund; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

4. The Write Stuff

Ringgold is also an award-winning author. She has written and illustrated numerous children’s books, including Tar Beach (1991) and Harlem Renaissance Party (2015), as well as an autobiography titled We Flew over the Bridge (1995).

5. There’s an App for That

A huge fan of the Japanese number puzzle Sudoku, Ringgold created a visual art variation of the game in the form of an app called Quiltuduko. It uses blocks of color and pattern, inspired partly by her own art. Solve the puzzle and you’ve created not an uninspiring grid of numbers but a work of art! It rolled out on iTunes in 2014, when Ringgold was 84 years old.

Visit NMWA and see Ringgold’s work American Collection #4: Jo Baker’s Bananas (1997) on view in the museum’s third floor galleries.

—Deborah Gaston is the director of education and digital engagement at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

An Artistic Tribute: Women Painting Women

Artists May Stevens and Faith Ringgold highlight other prominent women artists through paintings currently on display in the museum’s third-floor galleries. Stevens and Ringgold chose their subjects for their impact on the arts as well as broader social issues. Stevens’s SoHo Women Artists and Ringgold’s Jo Baker’s Bananas share common themes: women celebrating women, artists honoring artists, and women reclaiming their places in history.

May Stevens, Soho Women Artists, 1978; Acrylic on canvas, 78 x 142 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: The Lois Pollard Price Acquisition Fund

May Stevens, SoHo Women Artists, 1978; Acrylic on canvas, 78 x 142 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: The Lois Pollard Price Acquisition Fund

In SoHo Women Artists (1978), Stevens includes a self-portrait along with depictions of artist Miriam Schapiro and critic Lucy Lippard—two other members of the collective and feminist journal Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics. In addition, Stevens depicts other friends and neighbors who helped shape the 1970s feminist art revolution in New York City, including artists Harmony Hammond, Joyce Kozloff, Louise Bourgeois, and Sarah Charlesworth.

Stevens’s frieze-like composition is reminiscent of traditional western history paintings, which praised important thinkers but often excluded women. Through depictions of her contemporaries, Stevens emphasizes her friends’ influential roles in advancing the feminist movement. Working from candid snapshots of her friends, Stevens captures their respective personalities. Although each figure is distinct, they are layered to form a cohesive unit. Overall, the monumental painting embodies a sense of collaboration, friendship, and celebration.

Installation view of Faith Ringgold’s Jo Baker’s Bananas; Photo: Madeline Barnes, NMWA

Installation view of Faith Ringgold’s Jo Baker’s Bananas; Photo: Madeline Barnes, NMWA

Ringgold’s Jo Baker’s Bananas (1997) honors the world-famous dancer Josephine Baker (1906–1975), who gained renown in her adoptive country of France during the 1920s. Ringgold captures Baker’s vivacious personality through five iterations. Each of the five portrayals shows Baker with a wide smile, expressive gestures, and costumed in her iconic skirt made up of artificial bananas. The overlapping, sequential arrangement of the figures across the canvas makes it seem as though Baker is in motion, performing one of her signature dances. Through these images, along with depictions of musicians, audience members, and boldly colored patterns, Ringgold creates an atmosphere of celebration.

Jo Baker’s Bananas references nostalgia for the jazz age, but also pays homage to Baker. Upon her return to the U.S., Baker refused to perform for segregated audiences and became a civil rights leader. Ringgold has portrayed Baker several times, including in the painting Jo Baker’s Birthday and the mosaic mural Flying Home Harlem Heroes and Heroines.

Because women artists have often been overlooked and ignored in the history of art, it is rewarding to see women artists celebrated by other women artists. May Stevens and Faith Ringgold recognize and praise the significant social and artistic contributions made by other great women.

—Madeline Barnes is the spring 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: January 20, 2017

Women artists made headlines this week through a series of projects responding to the Presidential Inauguration. The Nasty Women Art Exhibition, which was held at the Knockdown Center in Queens, New York, raised more than $42,000 in proceeds for Planned Parenthood. The Guardian and the Huffington Post explore how the exhibition came together. Mutual Art shares stories of the famous “nasty women” of art history and their pivotal works. Artemisia Gentileschi, Faith Ringgold, and Yoko Ono make the list.

Françoise Mouly, art director of The New Yorker, and her daughter, Nadja Spiegelman, received more than 1,000 submissions for RESIST!. The 40-page tabloid newspaper of comics and cartoons will be available around the country.

The We Make America group prepares for the Women’s Marches on Washington and New York by making signs, props, and banners to carry. War on Women, a self-described “feminist hardcore punk band,” inspires a series of protest postersArtist Coralina Meyer asks for contributions of used women’s underwear to make a quilt to fly at the Women’s March on Washington. Hyperallergic calls the project a “welcoming beacon for those hoping to air the nation’s dirty laundry.”

Front-Page Femmes

NO MAN’S LAND artist Jennifer Rubell created a five-foot-tall orange cookie jar resembling one of Hillary Clinton’s iconic pantsuits. The sculpture, Vessel, will be filled with cookies made using Clinton’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Mickalene Thomas discusses her portraits of Michelle Obama and Solange Knowles.

In a tribute to President Obama, artist Emily Spivack opens the retail store “Medium White Tee”—a one-month installation at the Honolulu Museum of Art.

artnet shares a list of women artists whose works top the auction charts.

Hyperallergic says works by Elizabeth Murray “are so alive they leap off the wall.”

The Creators Project explores Pat Steir’s “Waterfall” series.

The documentary film Girl Power explores the lives of more than 25 women graffiti writers.

The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film shows that only 7% of all directors working on the 250 highest-grossing domestic releases last year were women—2% less than the year before.

The New Yorker delves into Zadie Smith’s fifth novel, Swing Time.

Shows We Want to See

A focused exhibition featuring the work of American artist Barbara Kruger closes this Sunday at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, opening March 3, 2017 at the Brooklyn Museum, will examine O’Keeffe’s “enduring influence.”

In advance of her retrospective, Lubaina Himid discusses how black British art evolved over the past three decades. Himid says, “I was trying to place black people into historical events, to make the invisible more visible.”

Terrains of the Body, on view at London’s Whitechapel Gallery, consists of photographs and a video work on loan from the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The Telegraphs calls the exhibition a “quiet, intelligent protest.”

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: December 9, 2016

NO MAN’S LAND artist Helen Marten wins the 2016 Turner Prize. Marten also won the inaugural Hepworth Prize for Sculpture this month.

The Guardian and ARTnews discuss Marten’s successes. The London-based sculptor vowed to split the money from both prizes with her fellow nominees. Tate Britain director Alex Farquharson says that Marten’s work “reflects the condition of the world and particularly the condition of the visual world, one that is always accelerating, especially under the influence of the internet.”

Front-Page Femmes

Two-person art collective Soda_Jerk receives the $100,000 Ian Potter Moving Image Commission.

Lorraine O’Grady lip-syncs to Anohni’s “Marrow” in a new music video.

Faith Ringgold says, “You can’t have art of any kind without freedom of speech.”

Palestinian artist Inas Halabi’s award-winning video Mnemosyne features 17 members of her family telling the story of her grandfather’s scar.

A new study finds that “women are consistently earning less than men in the arts.

Dorothea Lange’s censored photographs of Japanese internment camps were largely unseen and unpublished until 2006.

Lydia Polgreen is named editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post.

FKA twigs documents dance workshops she held with 400 dancers from the Baltimore area.

Natalie Frank and Zoe Buckman use politicians’ sexist statements from the last 20 years to make a mural.

A towering cedar sculpture by Ursula von Rydingsvard was blamed for the hospitalization of over a dozen FBI employees, though there is no known evidence to link the two.

Becca Klaver‘s collection of poetry, Empire Wasted, “taps into the current zeitgeist.”

The Creators Project highlights works by women photographers at Art Basel Miami.

The New Yorker highlights Zora Neale Hurston’s life and work.

Emily Dickinson wrote on “scavenged paper: the flap of a manila envelope, the backs of letters, chocolate wrappers, bits of newspaper.”

New works by writers Dava Sobel and Siri Hustvedt “examine how women have succeeded in the arts and sciences, often through channels men weren’t interested in taking.”

Nina Collins publishes a book of short stories written by her late mother, filmmaker Kathleen Collins, titled Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?

Beyoncé is the woman artist with the most Grammy nominations of all time.

Shows We Want to See

The exhibition Beyond Mammy, Jezebel, & Sapphire: Reclaiming Images of Black Women “deconstructs the limiting categorizations mainstream culture allows black women.”

“Sophistical symbol user” Betye Saar showcases assemblages from her 50-year career in Betye Saar: Uneasy Dancer.

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver features more than 60 works by Kim Dickey, including biomorphic objects and ceramic representations of garden mazes. The exhibition “subtly and surprisingly highlights the influence that objects and architecture have in shaping perception,” writes Hyperallergic.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

“Hey, Soul Sister”

“I didn’t want people to be able to look, and look away, because a lot of people do that with art. . . . I want them to look and see. I want to grab their eyes and hold them, because this is America.”
Faith Ringgold

Black Light Series #3: Soul Sister, 1967; Oil on canvas; Courtesy of Faith Ringgold and ACA Galleries, New York; © Faith Ringgold

Black Light Series #3: Soul Sister, 1967; Oil on canvas; Courtesy of Faith Ringgold and ACA Galleries, New York; © Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold—forthright about demanding viewers’ attention—made this statement in regard to her controversial “American People” series, which often depicted violent and uneasy interactions, but it applies to her innovative “Black Light” series as well.

Through this series, produced from 1967 to 1971, Ringgold embraced and elevated the notion that “black is beautiful.” Especially in a work like Black Light Series #3: Soul Sister, Ringgold rejects a standard of beauty determined by white culture, celebrating the features that make this bold female figure visually stunning.

Unlike many of the abstracted, almost mask-like faces that appear in the series, Soul Sister presents a realistic representation of a figure. The woman’s natural hairstyle and gold hoop earrings represent popular trends in the black community in the 1960s, and Ringgold uses them to exalt a distinctly African American style as beautiful. The long vertical canvas emphasizes the statuesque confidence of the bare-breasted woman.

In her “Black Light” works, Ringgold focused on depicting the subtle tonal range of African American skin, a skill she was never taught in art school. In creating the varying shades, the artist blended colors specifically without the use of white paint. Even for this single figure, Ringgold crafted several different shades of skin tones, which vary at least three times in the distance from her breasts to her face.

In her portrait of a contemporary black woman, Ringgold celebrates the power of her identity as both an African American and a woman. In other “Black Light” paintings, the artist presents gradations of skin tones or mask-like works that incorporate influences from African art. In this piece, however, the lone figure stands simply and proudly, reflecting Faith Ringgold’s vision of a broader definition of beauty and a more inclusive future.

—Alee Petrucelli is the publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Exploring Faith Ringgold’s “American People” on July Fourth

Every year the Fourth of July promises picnics, fireworks, and summery snacks—it’s a time of celebration with family and friends. However, Independence Day also brings to mind those people who have not always enjoyed the freedoms we celebrate. We praise America as the land of the free and the home of the brave, but is it? Different stories, such as Faith Ringgold’s, show us our ideals through the prism of failures, nuances, and hardships in our past.

Faith Ringgold, American People #18: The Flag is Bleedingm 1967; Courtesy of Faith Ringgold and ACA Galleries, (c) Faith Ringgold 1967

Faith Ringgold, American People #18: The Flag is Bleedingm 1967; Courtesy of Faith Ringgold and ACA Galleries, (c) Faith Ringgold 1967

In her American People series, included in the NMWA exhibition American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s, Faith Ringgold explores this question as it related to African Americans in the 1960s, during the Civil Rights Movement and feminist movement. Her paintings depict everyday Americans, both white and black, struggling under social pressures, masking their feelings behind façades, and uneasily forming relationships. This closer look reveals Ringgold’s perspective on the African American struggle for equality during the turbulent ’60s.

Her 1963 piece Between Friends depicts two women, one black and one white, meeting at a doorway. Although the women may seem close, there is distance and unease in their meeting, showing Ringgold’s belief that while the two women could talk, they were divided by a racial barrier, keeping them from closer friendship. Ringgold explains that the cross formed by the wooden beams was intended as a reference to religious practice, particularly the divisions she saw exacerbated as white worshippers attended white churches and black worshippers attended black churches.

Faith Ringgold at NMWA with (right) American People Series #1: Between Friends, 1963; Collection Friends of the Neuberger Museum of Art, (c) Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold at NMWA with (right) American People Series #1: Between Friends, 1963; Collection Friends of the Neuberger Museum of Art, (c) Faith Ringgold

While creating this piece, Ringgold was staying with a family friend in her home at Oak Bluffs, a predominately African American community on the traditionally white Martha’s Vineyard. While there, she witnessed many interracial interactions and relationships; she internalized what she saw and explored these themes—particularly overt and hidden hostilities—in her art.

Faith Ringgold’s art speaks volumes about our recent past, and the Fourth of July is an opportune moment to reflect on the struggles that many people have endured, and others still endure, to achieve the freedoms that we celebrate. NMWA will be open on July 4, and American People, Black Light will be on view through November 10, 2013.

 —Allyson Hitte is an education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.