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In Memoriam Faith Ringgold (1930-2024) : A Life Stitched in Art and Activism

Faith Ringgold in her studio, 1969. COURTESY THE ARTIST & ACA GALLERIES
Faith Ringgold in her studio, 1969. COURTESY OF ACA GALLERIES


Faith Ringgold's incredible career in the arts is a potent blend of social justice, feminist ideology, and postcolonial critique. Born in Harlem in 1930, Ringgold received classical training at the City College of New York. It was there that she encountered the entrenched realities of racism and sexism, shaping her artistic path towards challenging societal norms and amplifying marginalized voices.


Ringgold's artistic expression traversed various media – painting, sculpture, performance, and quilt making. Her work tackled controversial themes, establishing her association with movements of the 20th century.


Early strides: Confronting racial realities


In 1963, Ringgold revealed her "American People Series." This collection, viewed as the start of a pivotal evolution in her practice, showcased racial interactions through a female lens, confronting the stark realities of race in America. The series, with its inclusion of the American flag, subtly critiqued the idealized notion of national unity. These mural-sized works depicted the prejudice and segregation that plagued 1960s America, contributing to the rising tide of civil unrest.



Faith Ringgold The American People Series #18: The Flag is Bleeding, 1967 oil on canvas 182.88 x 243.84 cm (72 x 96 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington Gift of Glenstone Foundation and Patrons' Permanent Fund
Faith Ringgold The American People Series #18: The Flag is Bleeding, 1967 oil on canvas 182.88 x 243.84 cm (72 x 96 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington Gift of Glenstone Foundation and Patrons' Permanent Fund


Activism through art: Championing representation


Despite initial struggles and limited commercial success, Ringgold's activism intensified. She advocated for increased representation of women, particularly Black women, in major art institutions. Her protests targeted the exclusionary practices of the Whitney Museum and MoMA in the late 1960s.


A Shift in approach: celebrating black heroines


In the 80's, Ringgold's artistic approach evolved, transitioning from raw political agitation to a more optimistic portrayal of Black female heroes. She viewed art as a powerful tool for social change and personal expression. In 1980, she collaborated with her mother to create her first "story quilt," "Echoes of Harlem," marking the beginning of her signature style.


Story quilts: A Legacy stitched in fabric


Faith Ringgold, Tar Beach, 1988. ©FAITH RINGGOLD/ACA GALLERIES
Faith Ringgold, Tar Beach, 1988. ©FAITH RINGGOLDACA GALLERIES

These story quilts, a traditional American craft with roots in African communal work, became infused with Ringgold's narratives. African American history became a cornerstone of her artistic voice. The quilts, with their folk-art aesthetic, blend painted imagery, sewn fabric, and handwritten text. Simplicity and authenticity reign supreme, prioritizing narrative over form. Ringgold referred to them as "paintings made with the medium of quilting." She incorporated stories directly onto the quilts, ensuring their accessibility even when displayed or photographed. This innovation emerged from a time when her autobiography failed to find a publisher.



Ringgold's Awards


Her outstanding career was acknowledged by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, not once but twice by the National Endowment for the Arts, and the venerable American Academy of Arts and Letters. The National Arts Club further solidified her place in the artistic pantheon by bestowing upon her the Medal of Honor for Fine Arts.


In 2017, Ringgold's exceptional contributions were celebrated with her election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a testament to the profound impact of her work.


Ringgold's influence as an artist and activist extends far beyond accolades. Her creations grace the permanent collections of preeminent museums across the globe. From the Art Institute of Chicago to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, her works reside alongside masterpieces, a powerful indicator of their enduring significance.


A Golden Legacy


Today, Ringgold's work stands as a timeless testament to the power of creativity to inspire change and challenge perceptions. Her work resonates with audiences, offering historical insights while illuminating possibilities for a more equitable future. Faith Ringgold might have left this terrestrial plane, but her legacy as an artist, activist, and champion of equality is forever etched in the annals of art history.




 

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In Memoriam Faith Ringgold (1930-2024) : A Life Stitched in Art and Activism

April 22, 2024

Obidike Okafor

3 min read

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