Review

We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85

25.08.2017 |

Jan van Raay, Faith Ringgold (on the right) and Michele Wallace (in the middle) in Art Workers Coalition Manifestation, Whitney Museum, 1971, digital print, © Jan van Raay

The cycle of exhibitions, lectures and visits “A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism”, dedicated to women in art and women artists, is being held at the Brooklyn Museum in 2017. The exhibition We Wanted a Revolution is devoted to the work of African-American artists between 1965 and 1985.

We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85 - AWARE Artistes femmes / women artists

Jae Jarrell, Ebony Family, 1968, velvet dress, 96 x 96 x 25 cm, Brooklyn Museum, © Jae Jarrell

These two key decades were riven by struggles that transformed the United States. The artists presented are positioned at the juncture of the second feminist wave and the civil rights movement but are often relegated to the margin due to racial exclusion and misogyny.

The exhibition has been laid out by the curators Catherine Morris and Rujeko Hockley on a chronological basis, in which paintings, sculptures, installations, videos and photographs are complemented by a selection of archive material that they rounded up during their research. Whereas some of the artists represented succeeded in establishing themselves, such as Carrie Mae Weems and Lorna Simpson, the works of others may hardly have ever been shown since their creation.

We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85 - AWARE Artistes femmes / women artists

Faith Ringgold, For the Women’s House, 1971, oil on canvas, 243.8 x 243.8 cm, with the autorisation of Rose M. Singer, Rikers Island Correctional Center © 2017 Faith Ringgold

Inspiring works include the image-within-an-image paintings by Emma Amos, the only woman in the collective of African-American artists Spiral, which was active between 1963 and 1965, and the clothes made by Jae Jarrell, one of the founders of AfriCOBRA (African Community of Bard Relevant Artists), an organisation founded in Chicago in 1968.

We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85 - AWARE Artistes femmes / women artists

Emma Amos, Sand and her husband, 1973, oil on canvas, 112.4 x 127.6 cm, © Emma Amos, Ryan Lee Gallery, New York

The activist and artist Faith Ringgold is a key figure in the exhibition: she took part in several important initiatives during the 1970s, in particular Where We At: Black Women Artists, Inc. (WWA), a collective that organised the first exhibition dedicated to black female artists in New York in spring 1971. Included in the exhibition is her large painting also made in 1971 in honour of female prisoners, and the famous photograph of her and Michele Wallace demonstrating in front of the Whitney Museum in reaction to the exhibition Contemporary Black Artists in America, which was heavily challenged on account of the lack of African-Americans among the show’s selection committee.

We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85 - AWARE Artistes femmes / women artists

Howardena Pindell, Free, White and 21, 1980, video (colour, sound), 12’15’’, The Museum of Modern Art, New York © Howardena Pindell, Garth Greenan Gallery, New York

We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85 - AWARE Artistes femmes / women artists

Jan van Raay, Faith Ringgold (on the right) and Michele Wallace (in the middle) in Art Workers Coalition Manifestation, Whitney Museum, 1971, digital print, © Jan van Raay

Howardena Pindell is the only black woman among the founders of the A.I.R. Gallery (Artists-in-Residence), a women’s gallery opened in 1972. She is represented by her video Free, White and 21, which she made in 1980. In this work, as in many of those presented, the personal is combined with the political and anger.

All of them wanted a revolution: did they get one? The title of the exhibition, which is in the past tense, suggests disappointment but also questions the legacy and current state of the struggles of these women and artists in an America where racial tension and feminist demands are still smoking hot, and in an art world in which equality and the gender mix are far from being attained.

We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85, from 21 April to 17 September 2017, Brooklyn Museum, New York.

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