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
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).
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 Ringgold (b. 1930), The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles, 1996
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.
Faith Ringgold (b. 1930). We Came to America, from the series; "The American Collection", 1997.
Painted story quilt, acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border.
Faith Ringgold (b. 1930). The Flag is Bleeding #2 (The American Collection #6), 1997.
Paintings, acrylic on canvas with painted piece border.
Ringgold's work is a great example of the ability to exude a spectrum of emotions and scenes and elicit a variety of reactions from the viewer while using the same medium. Her works are conversation-starters, change-makers, and their impact is still being felt today, as our modern society grapples with the same historically-rooted sociopolitical and cultural afflictions. She was and is a pioneer of her time, and is still utilizing her platform and influence to bring about change today, at age 88 ("Faith Ringgold"). May her work continue to inspire artists and activists alike.
Marsha. Women Making Art History, Subjectivity, Aesthetics
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,
“Faith Ringgold, The Sunflower Quilting Bee at
Arles.” New Art, New Ideas/Carleton
- Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.” We Came to America, from the
Series; "The American Collection" | PAFA - Pennsylvania Academy of
the Fine Arts
Faith. “Forum Gallery Inc.” The Flag Is Bleeding 2 The American
Collection 6 by Faith Ringgold on Artnet
, Forum Gallery Inc., 1 Jan. 1997,
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