Published: September 7, 2010
For 50 years, Faith Ringgold has used her art to comment on racism and gender inequality. Though best known as the progenitor of the African American story quilt revival that began in the 1970s, it is her pointed political paintings of the 1960s †many of which disappeared from view †that are the focus of “American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960,” on view September 11⁄ecember 19 at the Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase College.
The Neuberger Museum has organized this first comprehensive survey of these early paintings to coincide with the artist’s 80th birthday. Approximately 60 works will be on view.
Featured are Ringgold’s two earliest series, “American People,” 1962‱967, and “Black Light,” 1967‱969, which have not been seen together since they were first exhibited in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In both series, the artist explores the issues that were at the forefront of her experience of racial conflict in the United States.
In her words, “‘American People’ is about the condition of black and white America and the paradoxes of integration felt by many black Americans.” In one of her most compelling works, “Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger,” 1969, from the “Black Light” series, she used the image of the American flag, placing the word “die” behind the stars, and “nigger” within the stripes. She once explained to an interviewer: “It would be impossible for me to picture the American flag just as a flag, as if that is the whole story. I need to communicate my relationship with this flag based on my experience as a black woman in America.”
Such text-based works prompted political posters such as “People’s Flag Show,” 1970, produced for an exhibition organized by Ringgold and two fellow artists, in support, in part, of a gallerist who was arrested for exhibiting antiwar sculpture fabricated out of the American flag. The exhibition contained more than 200 works made from or about the American flag and Ringgold was arrested and convicted of violating the Flag Protection Act of 1968.
Another poster, “United States of Attica,” 1971, her most widely distributed poster of the 1970s, was created in response to an uprising of prisoners in the New York State Attica prison. The image of a map of the United States describes acts of violence in America. At the bottom of the image Ringgold writes, “This map of American violence is incomplete. Please write in whatever you find lacking.”
It was through these paintings, posters and murals from the 1960s that Ringgold found her political voice. It was also through these works that she discovered artistic methods to express that voice, methods critical to understanding all that the artist has since created.
“American People, Black Light” will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog.
The museum is at 735 Anderson Hill Road. For more information, 914-251-6100 or www.Neuberger.com .
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