Faith Ringgold

1930 | New York, United States
Faith Ringgold — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

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American visual artist.

Faith Ringgold studied art at the City College of New York, from which she graduated in 1959. In 1950 she married jazz pianist Robert Earl Wallace. The couple had two daughters and divorced in 1954. In 1962 she married Burdette Ringgold. As a major figure of the Black Arts Movement, F. Ringgold painted her first political pieces, the American People Series (1963-1967), as a commentary on the American way of life in relation to the Civil Rights Movement. Around the same time, she also took part in political actions, such as organising a protest in 1968 against the Whitney Museum in New York, which was holding an exhibition on the great sculptors of the 1930s but had failed to include African-American artists. Two years later, she spearheaded another protest in the same museum, this time criticising the under-representation of women artists in its collections.
In the early 1970s F. Ringgold created thangkas inspired by Tibetan art – acrylic paintings framed in embroidered fabric – as well as soft sculptures and masks. In 1971 she spent several months working on a mural, For the Women’s House, with inmates at the Women’s House of Detention on Rikers Island. The mural was meant as a celebration of women inspired by how the inmates wanted to see them: occupying professional positions often held by men. This same series provided the starting point for another series of sculptures, The Family of Women (1973), based on the masks of the Dan people of Liberia. F. Ringgold then went on to design the installation The Wake and Resurrection of the Bicentennial Negro (1976), in which she commemorated American Independence by having dancers tell the story of the links between African communities and their ancestors at the time. At the end of the decade, she travelled to Nigeria and Ghana to learn about local artistic traditions, which would have a deep influence on her later practice.

Following on from her thangkas, she created her first quilt, Echoes of Harlem (1980), in collaboration with her mother, fashion designer Willi Posey. Her quilts were later enhanced with text, giving them an additional narrative quality. From then on F. Ringgold would consistently use this form of pictorial vocabulary, combining textile, embroidery, and acrylic paint. Her first quilt story, Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima? (1983), criticised the stereotypes surrounding African-American women through the use of the figure of Aunt Jemima, a plump “Black Mammy” used on the packaging of a breakfast foods brand. From 1984 to 2002 F. Ringgold was a professor at the University of California in San Diego. Her first children’s book, Tar Beach, was published in 1991. The book, which was based on her quilt story of the same name (1988), won twenty awards. She has since written and illustrated many others, including Harlem Renaissance Party and We Came to America, published in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
In 2017 F. Ringgold became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston. In 2019 the Serpentine Galleries in London held a major retrospective of her work.

Mathilde de Croix

Translated from the French by Lucy Pons.

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