The book that caught my eye in the Lilly stacks is called “Women Making Art: History, Subjectivity, Aesthetics” by Marsha Meskimmon. It immediately caught my attention, as I am a young woman and a proponent of women’s involvement in, success within and advancement of every study and field, including art. The book is full of the stories of incredibly influential women who documented the current events of their time through different modalities of art. The artist I chose to focus on is Faith Ringgold, an artist who strove to weave the heated sociopolitical, gender-related and racial tensions of her lifetime into her work.
Meskimmon writes, “In the case of women doubly inscribed by sexual and racial difference, the problem of objectification and the inability to attain an empowered subject-position is all the more pressing. Thus, the process of positioning embodied black female subjects against the grain of historical and theoretical marginalization is an act of corporeal cartography which reconceives western knowledge systems as it rewrites monolithic historical formations” (Meskimmon 36).
Background and History
Throughout her career, Ringgold has been an instrumental propagator of change surrounding her society’s notions that black women didn’t possess the capability to be creative, and that they could only ever be objectified in media and in art. This has had a lot to do with institutionalized beliefs and rhetoric that art of the European and American descent was superior to the art born from the African diaspora. Ringgold, and other influential black women artists of her time, were fighting a multi-faceted battle against discrimination regarding sexes, races, and the possession of creative agency.
The chapter of Meskimmon's book in which Ringgold is included is called “Corporeal cartography: women artists of the Anglophone African diaspora”. Meskimmon explains that there are different schools of thought regarding the involvement and influence of black women artists such as Ringgold, as well as varying interpretations of their art and its impact. The crux of “corporeal cartography” is to embody the junction between bodies depicted in art, and where those depicted bodies have been- geographically and socio-politically. The function of "corporeal cartography" is explained to be the re-telling and sometimes the re-writing of history through art, with the goal of more accurately and more justly depicting the importance of, integrity of and societal contributions made by historically marginalized communities (Meskimmon 37).
Technique and Style
With this critical background in mind, I was able to reach a deeper level of understanding of Ringgold’s art. She is recognized for her notably striking social commentary conveyed predominantly through quilts. She first began her artistic endeavors with the creation of tools of civil rights activism, such as posters and masks, and then somewhat ironically went on to become an acclaimed author and illustrator of children’s books. In addition to quilting, she often employed acrylic and canvas as the interface for her work, sometimes even utilizing both paint and fabric together ("Faith Ringgold").
Visually, I was immediately struck by the vibrancy of her color choices, and the force of life that seems to be coursing through every work and bringing them alive. Themes that she observed throughout her upbringing in Harlem, New York City in the 1930’s seem to radiate through her work in the form of action-packed scenes and lots of engaging visual interest. Some of her work depicts the joys of life and the human experience, and some of it depicts serenity and the value of community. Perhaps her most striking works employ unnerving visual stimuli, such as blood, smoke, and scrawled bodies, which work together to declare a marked social commentary and elicit an off-putting effect.
Faith Ringggold (b.1930). Jazz Stories:
Mama Can Sing and Papa Can Blow #1 & Somebody Stole My Broken Heart,
2004, acrylic on canvas with pieced border.
Painted story quilt, acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border.
“Faith Ringgold.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 9 May 2016, www.biography.com/people/faith-ringgold-9459066.
Meskimmon, Marsha. Women Making Art History, Subjectivity, Aesthetics. Routledge, 2003.
About the Author Donna Tennant Donna Tennant is a Houston-based art historian who has been writing about art and artists for many years. “The Magnificent Faith Ringgold: A Legendary Artist's Survey Exhibition at Houston Museum of African American Culture.” Arts & Culture Texas, 17 Aug. 2017, artsandculturetx.com/the-magnificent-faith-ringgold-a-legendary-artists-survey-exhibition-at-houston-museum-of-african-american-culture/.
“Faith Ringgold, The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles.” New Art, New Ideas/Carleton College, apps.carleton.edu/campus/gallery/new_art/works/?image_id=237167.
“PAFA - Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.” We Came to America, from the Series; "The American Collection" | PAFA - Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, www.pafa.org/collection/we-came-america-series-american-collection.
Ringgold, Faith. “Forum Gallery Inc.” The Flag Is Bleeding 2 The American Collection 6 by Faith Ringgold on Artnet, Forum Gallery Inc., 1 Jan. 1997, www.artnet.com/artists/faith-ringgold/the-flag-is-bleeding-2-the-american-collection-6-a-qS7raS9qcgVoMEoLLXuuqg2.