A Celebration of African American Artists - Faith Ringgold
October 05 2020
Photo by sjathevoice.org
Painter, textile artist, illustrator, and activist, Faith Ringgold has lived a rich and interesting life. She is an incredible artist, who did a lot for women and civil rights in America.
In fact, in 2009, she even received the Peace Corps Award.
Interested in learning more about this brilliant woman? Then please continue reading!
Faith Ringgold’s Early Life
Faith was born on the 8th of October 1930. (She will soon be 90 years old.)
Ringgold was born as Faith Wili Jones in Harlem, Manhattan.
Her mother was a fashion designer and her father was an avid storyteller. As you can tell, Faith grew up around incredible creatives, and her parents always encouraged her expressiveness.
Whilst growing up, Faith was influenced by the Harlem Renaissance. This was a movement of intellectual, artistic, and social growth in Harlem.
She was surrounded by superb artists, musicians, poets, and activists. Her childhood friend was Sonny Rollins. He would practice saxophone at family gatherings and eventually grew up to become a famous jazz musician.
Faith suffered from asthma, and because of this she explored visual art as a young girl and would experiment with crayons. Her family supported her in her artistic endeavors and her mother even taught her to sew and she then learned to work creatively with fabric. As you will see, much of her art came in the form of exquisite quilts.
She grew up in a loving family and even though she lived during the Great Depression, she states that she never felt poor or oppressed. Her parents protected her and raised her with love, she mentions how she had a happy childhood.
The interesting childhood she had, eventually expresses itself in her future works.
Her themes focused on people, music, poetry, oppression, sexism, and segregation.
In the 1950’s Ringgold was enrolled in the City College of New York. She wanted to major in art but was forced to study art education. The reason was that at the time women were only allowed to major in certain roles. She also studied along with Robert Gwathamy and Yasuo Kuniyoshi.
She graduated in 1955 with a Bachelors’s Degree and taught in New York City’s public schools. In 1959 she received her Master’s Degree and enjoyed a trip to Europe with her mother and daughters. Sadly, they had to return home in 1961 because her brother had passed away.
Artworks and Career
Ringgold is known for a variety of different forms of art. She was extremely adaptable and created paintings, quilts, sculptures, children’s book illustrations, and even masks.
Faith’s earlier paintings focused mainly on everyday racism, which you can imagine at the time, was not very popular. Sales were slow and perturbed galleries and collectors. Her artworks were inspired by cubism, impressionism, and African art. Many of her figures and shapes were flat.
In 1963 she painted a series called The American People. It illustrates people during the civil rights movements and expresses the turbulence of the political system of the time.
In 1972 she installed The Women’s House. A mural was installed at the women’s facility on Rikers Island. The artwork portrayed women in civil servant and professional roles, instead of being imprisoned. This mural has been regarded as her first feminist work of art. This was also her first public commission.
She dabbled in darker colors with her works and portrayed the struggles of women and men of African descent.
In 1973, Ringgold began to experiment with sculptures. She made costumed masks, as well as freestanding soft sculptures.
Her masks were made from linen canvas, painted, beaded, and had raffia hair. In time, she created a series of 11 masks known as the Witch Mask Series. These masks could be worn and had a spiritual and sculptural identity.
She made many mask series after this, many representing people from her childhood.
Faith switched from paintings to fabric to get away from western/eastern traditions. While she traveled through Europe she visited various museums, and this later led to her development in quilt paintings. While in Amsterdam she visited the Rijksmuseum; there she encouraged Nepali paintings and this inspired her own fabric works of art.
Once she returned to America she collaborated with her mother and created The Slave Rape Series. This took on the perspective of African women who were sold into slavery. This was a painting that led her mother to teach her how to sew in the African-American tradition, and this led to her first quilt being born called Echos of Harlem in the 1980s.
Her quilts were like stories. They narrated her life, as well as the lives of African American women; such as in her French Collection, which depicted African American women who dedicated themselves to changing the world.
Faith Ringgold has also illustrated 17 children’s books. She received many awards for her stories. Her stories mixed fantasy along with realism, to help children deal with racial issues of the time. The stories were written to uplift and empower young ones who had been exposed to racism.
She has received over 80 awards and honors during her lifetime.
Activism was also close to the heart of Faith. She fought for women’s rights, as well as racial equality. She, along with other fellow feminists protested art exhibitions in which women were not allowed to exhibit, as well as people of color.
Faith was even arrested in the 1970s. Even though she was arrested, once released she continued to protest and fight for the rights of women and African Americans.
Where is Faith Ringgold today?
Faith is now retired and lives in New Jersey. She has a beautiful art studio in her home, but she mentions that this year during the lockdown and after the death of her husband, she felt uninspired to create. Her husband, Burdette Ringgold sadly passed away February this year.
According to an article published in the New York Times, Faith struggled for a time with creative inspiration. But recently due to all the hardships in the world, she found inspiration again and will continue to fight back through her art.
She was deeply moved by the Black Lives Matters Movement. When George Floyd was murdered, she found her reason to continue fighting, even at the age of 90 years old. In her own words, she says: “ I’m not done yet. I’ve got so much more to do.”
Faith Ringgold is an inspiration. Even at the age of 90, she still fights for those who have to face terrible struggles daily. She gives voice to the minorities and will continue to fight.
She spent most of her life showing the world how women and African Americans have been exploited and judged. Her strong messages have been portrayed in her superb artworks.
She is a remarkable woman, who deserves our respect.