FAITH RINGGOLD – CONTEXTUAL RESEARCH – WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A WOMAN

Faith Willi Ringgold (October, 1930, New York)

Faith Ringgold is a 90 year old multimedia artist known for her figurative activist paintings and quilts. Born in Harlem, Ringgold grew up surrounded by creatives – supporting her interest in art as she spent a lot of time inside due to her chronic asthma. Ringgold specifically states that her upbringing in Harlem during the Great Depression era simply meant she was surrounded by a loving family, rather than being “poor and oppressed”. Ringgold’s experience living in Harlem at this time was the beginning of her lasting inspiration for her art, through the people around her and the racism she faced.

While in education, Ringgold was forced into studying art education rather than her preferred major in art – this was due to the City College regulations around women attending certain courses. It was around this time in 1950 that Ringgold had two children with a jazz pianist, who she later separated from. Once graduating from City College in 1959, Ringgold travelled to Europe with her children and mother. It was here that Ringgold was inspired to create the series titled ‘The French Collection’ – a series of quilt paintings which references a young African-American artists in Paris in the 1920’s who later becomes successful in America.

‘Dancing at the Louvre’ (1991)

Since then, Ringgold has continued to create in a variety of forms, such as sculpture, painting, and quilt making. She has taught as well as taking part in protests concerning human rights, feminism, and black rights. I think it is incredibly important to mention that although she has worked over the past 90’s years of her life, her work still appears timeless. The pressing social issues of her work are still prevalent in todays world – and her work continues to feels impactful despite their age. [Below: ‘American People Series #20’: Die (1967)]

As a female artist creating since the early 1900’s, Ringgold has continued to fight for female representation in the art world. One reason she began making quilts was so that she could carry her own quilts to exhibitions instead of requesting help from her husband to carry paintings.

‘THE FLAG IS BLEEDING #2 (AMERICAN COLLECTION #6’ (1997) 193 x 200.7 cm, 76 x 79 in

The piece above is one of Ringgold’s most popular, and most likely her most shocking. The painted quilt shows a smiling dress wearing mother figure holding on to two naked children at either side of her, looking up with a smile and bright eyes admiring the adult between them. The trio stands to the left amongst a bloodied American flag, framed by a fabric border. The blood drips all down the flag and mothers torso and subjects as they either seem oblivious to their surroundings, or they are trying to keep a positive outlook despite the horror surrounding them. The kids look towards their protector with hope, while the mother must bare the blood on her own clothes. The positioning of the mothers face being amongst the stars could link to the connotations of each colour of the American flag. With white meaning purity and innocence, and blue meaning justice, it could relate to the racism and segregation of New York in the 1900’s. This piece could also relate to the treatment of immigrants in America as the flag is said to represent the ‘land of the free’, despite their overwhelmingly harsh and often deadly approach to immigrants, especially from Mexico.

I am inspired by Faith Ringgold’s use of art to convey the experiences of her life. As a feminist myself, and my project using very personal and feminine topics, I am excited by Ringgold’s use of subject matter in an unapologetic form. We see the racism and sexism she has faced, and she conveys that through her art in a very bold way – especially in her large scale paintings. Her work describes her individualism through the use of patterns, subjects, and topics she is passionate about.

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