Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold

American Multi-media Artist, Social Activist, Author, and Art Professor

Born: October 8, 1930 - Harlem, New York City, USA
"My process is designed to give us 'colored folk' and women a taste of the American dream straight up. Since the facts don't do that too often, I decided to make it up."
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"If One Can Anyone Can All You Gotta Do Is Try"
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"My women are actually flying; they are just free, totally. They take their liberation by confronting this huge masculine icon - the bridge."
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"Like all artists and writers, I am both enriched and limited by what I know and have experienced. In other words my books and my art are based on my life's experience. I am, as you know, a black woman in America."
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"My ideas come from reflecting on my life and the lives of people I have known and have been in some way inspired by."
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"I had something I was trying to say and sometimes the message is an easy transmission and sometimes it's a difficult one but I love the power of saying it so I'm gonna do it whether it's hard or easy. Because I just love the idea that I can, I can say it!"
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"Being an artist is a way of life"
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"You can't sit around waiting for somebody else to say who you are. You need to write it and paint it and do it. That's the power of being an artist."
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"Freedom of speech is absolutely imperative. You can't have art of any kind without freedom of speech."
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"I wanted to tell my story. Who am I and why? - why, who, what, where, when."
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"When I was in elementary school I used to see reproductions of Horace Pippin's 1942 painting called John Brown Going to His Hanging in my textbooks. I didn't know Pippin was a black person. No one ever told me that. I was much, much older before I found out that there was at least one black artist in my history books. Only one. Now that didn't help me. That wasn't good enough for me. How come I didn't have that source of power? It is important. That's why I am a black artist. It is exactly why I say who I am."
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"I had been to the African source of my own "classical" art forms and now I was set free."
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"I am inspired by people who rise above adversity. Like most people, I am also inspired by people who are the best they can be. Although I love a beautiful vase of flowers, a sumptuous landscape or a sunset, I will not be moved to paint one of these without a meaningful personal reference that is also political."
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"I have a responsibility to myself and to coming generations of artists. I would like to be the one that helps them do what they want to do. That's the point of being an artist. You can communicate things that you feel and see. You are a voice. You have a power to do that. You don't have to ask anyone's permission. You don't need anyone's help. Once art is made, it an be seen. That is a very powerful thing."
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"Your job is to tell your story. Your story has to come out of your life, your environment, who you are, where you come from."
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"All over this country and the world people were listening to these black men. I felt called upon to create my own vision of the black experience we were witnessing. I read feverishly, especially everything that James Baldwin had written on relationships between blacks and whites in America. Baldwin understood, I felt, the disparity between black and white people as well as anyone; but I had something to add - the visual depiction of the way we are and look. I wanted my paintings to express this moment I knew was history. I wanted to give my woman's point of view to this period."
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Summary of Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold took the traditional craft of quilt making (which has its roots in the slave culture of the south - pre-civil war era) and re-interpreted its function to tell stories of her life and those of others in the black community. One of her most famous story quilts is Tar Beach, which depicts a family gathered on their rooftop on a hot summer night.

As a social activist, she has used art to start and grow such organizations as Where We At that support African American women artists. Her foundation Anyone Can Fly, is devoted to expanding the art canon to include artists of the African diaspora and to introduce the African American masters to children and adult audiences.


  • Ringgold's early art and activism are inextricably intertwined. Her art confronted prejudice directly and made political statements, often using the shock value of racial slurs within her works to highlight the ethnic tension, political unrest, and the race riots of the 1960s. Her works provide crucial insight into perceptions of white culture by African Americans and vice versa.
  • She combines her African heritage and artistic traditions with her artistic training to create paintings, multi-media soft sculptures, and "story quilts" that elevate the sewn arts to the status of fine art.
  • In her story quilt Tar Beach the term 'Tar Beach' refers to the urban rooftop itself, commonly used as a place on which to escape the oppressive heat of an inner city without air conditioning. The adults visit with each other while the children play and sleep on their blankets. The daughter dreams of flying freely over all barriers, which is represented by the George Washington bridge in the background. Ringgold consciously chooses to lend a folk-art quality to techniques in her story quilts as a means of emphasizing their narrative importance over compositional style.
  • Her later works deal with prejudice in a different way. No longer using confrontational imagery to attack prejudice, she subverts it, instead by providing young African Americans with positive role models, re-imaging hurtful racial stereotypes as strong, successful, and heroic women.

Important Art by Faith Ringgold

Progression of Art

Mr. Charlie

A mature, white American businessman is depicted in bold colors, hard edges, and flat, simplified shapes. He holds his hand over his heart and stares ahead with a blank, but condescending expression. The man's vacant expression suggests someone so fixated on his own point of view that he cannot truly see or hear anyone else's experience. The gesture of his hand pressed to his chest appears to protect and excuse him from any kind of response or responsibility. The figure, too large to be contained within the bounds of the canvas, possesses a sort of looming presence made all the more intimidating by Ringgold's placement of him in the extreme forefront of the picture plane. The two dimensionality of the image suggests that he represents a type of person, rather than a specific man, without human depth or feeling.

The title of the piece refers to the African-American expression "Mr. Charlie," which was used to describe a racist white man. By using primary colors for both his suit and the background, Ringgold suggests the man has a kind of assumed privilege; he and the world reflect one another.

Oil on canvas - Collection of the artist


Woman Looking in a Mirror

The American People Series, which Ringgold described as "about the condition of black and white America and the paradoxes of integration felt by many black Americans," includes 20 works. Some of the images confront racism and racial violence while others draw upon the "black power" or "black is beautiful" message that came out of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

Here, Ringgold depicts an African American woman seated before a window, perhaps at the moment before getting dressed, as she appears to be wearing undergarments. The woman looks into a handheld mirror, while in the background, the window overflows with blue and green geometric trees and bushes. The black branches and trunks of the plants frame the woman and echo the curves and angles of her form. The stylized rendering evokes the work of Henri Rousseau and Picasso's Girl Before a Mirror, with their broad expanses of color heavily outlined in black.

The window behind the woman shows a verdant, light-filled jungle, suggesting an African landscape, and creating the sense that the woman is at home in this setting. Its lushness complements and highlights the beauty of her image. Gazing at herself in her hand mirror demonstrates to the viewer the importance of her own self-regard over those of the male gaze or of white society. The feminist viewpoint combined with one of black power conveys the message that an African American woman is beautiful when regarded by herself.

Oil on canvas - ACA Galleries



Ringgold had hoped to participate in the first World Festival of Black Arts in 1966 but was rebuffed by Hale Woodruff, who curated the artwork for the festival. Of Woodruff's criticism, Ringgold wrote: "I thought it was insulting that he thought I didn't know anything about rhythm or movement... I decided I'm going to show him I know rhythm and movement because my teachers did teach me those aspects of paintings. They didn't teach me anything about being a black artist; no I learned that by myself. But they did teach me about movement and that sort of thing. And that's when I did DIE - the biggest painting I had done up until then. ...A tribute to these guys who want to try to tell me I don't know what I am doing."

In a style that Ringgold called "super realism," this work depicts the race riots of the 1960s in America as a melee of random violence. The repeating adult figures, African Americans and whites, are injured, and fighting or fleeing, while a white boy and an African American girl huddle together in the center of the canvas, framed by the falling limbs of an African American man and a white woman being shot. The violence contrasts with well-dressed appearances of the figures; the men in black pants and white shirts, the women in fashionable dresses and heels.

The black and white color of the men's clothing visually emphasizes that racism is the origins of the violence, and the well-dressed appearance conveys that no class of society is exempt. The painting is a kind of tour de force of Ringgold's knowledge of artistic style combined with her experience of the violence generated by racism and her fear that racial violence would become endemic.

Influenced by both Picasso's Guernica and the depiction of race riots in Jacob Lawrence's The Migration Series, Ringgold intended to depict the racial turmoil following the Civil Rights movement. As an African American woman, she also wanted to respond to the societal expectations of the art world which, as she said, viewed art as "a conceptual or material process, a commodity, and not a political platform...To be emotionally involved in art was considered to be primitive."

Michele Wallace, the art critic, has said of DIE, "the painting illustrates Ringgold's mastery of the Western canonical strategy of expressing narrative and figurative movement by placing the same group of figures across the picture plane in various stages of the scene. In contrast to act of reading left to right, the artist situates the stampede-like wrestling of forms in the right side of the canvas, almost spilling over to the left portion of the composition. "

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York


Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger

The painting's title acknowledges the first moon landing in 1969. Instead of the traditional flag that the American astronauts planted on the surface of the moon, Ringgold has inscribed, "die" in black lettering within the stars and has broken and changed the stripes, so that the white stripes read "nigger."

The work is part of her Black Light Series where Ringgold said that she intended to create a "more affirmative black aesthetic." She also noted how "white western art was focused around the color white and light/contrast/chiaroscuro, while African cultures in general used darker colors and emphasized color rather than tonality to create contrast." Here, she mutes the contrast of the traditional flag image; the stripes and stars are muted, as if overshadowed by racism.

Influenced by Jasper Johns' Flag, Ringgold changes his ambiguous image into an explicit critique of American racism from the viewpoint of the African American community at the end of the Civil Rights era. Explaining why she incorporated the words within the stars and stripes, Ringgold said, "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."

Oil on canvas - ACA Galleries, New York City


Aunt Bessie and Aunt Edith

In her Family of Women Mask Series Ringgold portrayed thirty-one women and children from her childhood. Here, Aunt Bessie and Aunt Edith are depicted wearing masks, influenced by Ringgold's interest in African art. Willi Posey, Ringgold's mother, made garments for ten of the figures in the series. Although the figures are posed without bodies beneath their garments, they both possess large, matronly bosoms. Both figures depicted here wear colorful, beaded collars, and one wears a whistle around her neck, reminiscent, perhaps of the whistles she used in protest of the Whitney Museum's lack on inclusion of women artists or artists of color. The expressions of the masks are wide-eyed and open-mouthed, highlighted by white lines to emphasize their features, and are surmounted by a braided wig.

As Ringgold said, "Because the mask is your face, the face is a mask, so I'm thinking of the face as a mask because of the way I see faces is coming from an African vision of the mask which is the thing that we carry around with us, it is our presentation, it's our front, it's our face." Even though the women wear African-influenced textiles as dresses and masks, they could also represent two women on a neighborhood stoop, exchanging neighborhood gossip, and turning faces of watchfulness and commonality toward the viewer. As a result, the figures seem familiar, despite their exotic ornamentation.

Cloth sculpture - Collection of artist


Echoes of Harlem

Made with her mother, Willi Posey, this first quilt by Ringgold features depictions of 30 residents of Harlem. Painted in a grid system, the faces appear gazing from various angles set off from each other by rectangular-shaped quilt work in the border. The portraits are arranged in a pattern with twelve blue-background images in the center and a blue-background portrait in each corner. Fourteen depictions with a golden brown background are centered within all four sides of the work.

The 20th century trend of using grid patterns to organize a composition is combined with the traditional piece work of quilt making; the overall effect is reminiscent of screen printing, the replication of images as used by Warhol in his pop art.

With the use of the predominantly blue background, Ringgold creates a sense of a harmonious and diversified community. Racial differences are suggested by the contrasting colors of the portrait squares. The overall effect is to acknowledge the diversity that makes up Harlem but presented as if a harmonious whole in a quilt that provides warmth and a continuation of story and heritage as it would if it were passed down through a family.

Paint on cotton - The Studio Museum in Harlem


Who's Afraid of Aunt Jemima?

This is Ringgold's first story quilt and the first quilt project she made by herself, without the help of her mother, who died the previous year. Squares along the borders depict African American women of varying ages from all walks of life, and the squares in the center depict a variety of different people, each connected to a block of text that tell some part of Aunt Jemima's story. The center square resembles a book title page and declares the piece a "quilt book."

As Michele Wallace, the artist's daughter and art critic, has noted, the work answers the question "what are we (as black women) supposed to do with our lives and how are we supposed to do it?" Ringgold contradicts a common stereotype of an African American woman by here recasting Aunt Jemima as a successful businesswoman and notes that the work is also "a feminist statement about the stereotype of black women as fat. Aunt Jemima conveys the same negative connotation as Uncle Tom, simply because of her looks.'' By focusing on a heroic matriarch, Ringgold also connects to Aunt Jemima's story her own success in overcoming the stereotypes she faced as an African American woman and artist.

Acrylic on canvas, dyed, painted and pieced fabric - Private Collection


Tar Beach

Tar Beach, Ringgold's best known work, is the first quilt in her Woman on a Bridge series about a young African American girl, Cassie Louise Lightfoot, growing up in Harlem. In 1991 Ringgold published Tar Beach as a children's book for ages four to eight, and the book was named a Caldecott Honor Book, A New York Times Best Illustrated Book, and won the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration and the Parents' Choice Gold Award. Featured on Reading Rainbow, widely recommended by librarians and read by countless school children, Ringgold became a household name.

The story quilt depicts a family spending time outdoors on the rooftop or 'tar beach' of their apartment building. In the center image; clothes are drying on a clothesline; four people are gathered around a table playing cards, another table has food, and Cassie and her younger brother are resting on a blanket. The background depicts the New York City skyline, where Cassie is also is shown flying over the George Washington Bridge.

The scene is bordered by fabric squares, many of them with floral patterns, and at the top and bottom of the quilt another border of rectangles contains text, telling the girl's story. At top left the story begins," I will always remember when the stars fell around me and lifted me above the George Washington Bridge." Another section reads, "Sleeping on Tar Beach was magical ...only eight years old and in the third grade and I can fly. That means I am free to go wherever I want to for the rest of my life."

Ringgold's use of color and the repeating floral motif creates a garden-like border and a sense of familial warmth. By painting decorative embellishments onto her piecework with the same color she has subtly unified the many and varied color blocks used to create the border. By adopting a 'naive' or 'folk' technique that avoids perspective and shading, Ringgold suggests that the experience depicted in the work is being expressed directly and freely, from within the internal life of her character. Ringgold drew upon her own experience growing up to create the character, but also wanted to convey an empowering feminist message. As she said of the series, "My women are actually flying; they are just free, totally. They take their liberation by confronting this huge masculine icon - the bridge."

Acrylic on canvas, bordered with printed, painted, quilted, and pieced cloth - The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York


Change: Faith Ringgold's Over 100 Pounds Weight Loss Performance Story Quilt

Rectangular blocks of text describe Ringgold's personal and political relationship to food, the social expectations of weight and body image in women, and her undertaking an almost yearlong weight loss program. In alternating rectangles, a collage of black and white images include photos of Ringgold at different ages, family photos, and images of women in terms of body image and weight. Overlaying the quilt rectangles is a quilt square pattern, which creates an x shape across each block of text or image.

Ringgold has said "The reason why I began making quilts is because I wrote my autobiography in 1980 and couldn't get it published, because I wanted to tell my story and my story didn't appear to be appropriate for African-American women, that's what I think, and that really made me so angry." She continued telling that story in Change 2 (1988) and Change 3 (1989).

The profusion of images and texts, personal and political, individual and cultural, are meant to make the viewer aware of the societal messages that are brought to bear upon the individual woman who is influenced by them and tries to live up to them. Yet the x shape drawn across each block of text or image seems to cross out the message each block contains, as if suggesting that trying to follow each message has resulted in failure, just as a dieter may try diet after diet without success. Ringgold connects her own struggle with weight loss with the feminist issue of self-image and societal expectations.

Photo etching on silk - Private Collection


The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles

In 1959 after earning her Master's degree in Fine Art, Ringgold went to Europe to study the work of the masters, particularly the work of the Impressionists and Cubists. She was struck by the absence of people of color except as models or subjects, and years later in The French Collection began looking at the tradition of European art from the viewpoint of an African American artist.

A group of noted African American women from history, seated in a field of sunflowers, is depicted creating a quilt of sunflowers. The setting in the background is Arles, best known for the time that Vincent Van Gogh spent there and the paintings he produced. The women depicted are Madam Walker, Sojourner Truth, Ida Wells, Fannie Lou Hammer, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Ella Baker. To the right of the women stands Vincent van Gogh, holding a vase of sunflowers, reminiscent of the seven still lifes with sunflowers he painted while at Arles. Here, he offers his sunflowers as a sign of respect and appreciation to these legendary women.

Ringgold represents the tradition of African-American quilt making as a collective effort, passed down through the generations of women in her family, and juxtaposes it with the tradition of the solitary male European painter, represented here by Van Gogh. The quilt they are making with its sunflowers is in harmony with the natural world that surrounds them.

Writing in the New York Times, the critic Roberta Smith noted, "This tribute to female solidarity and individual struggle gets its real force from Ms. Ringgold's contrasting depictions of the quilted sunflowers and the painted sunflower field, which make their own political point in purely visual terms. In short, the artist juxtaposes the solitary, traditionally male activity of painting with the collective, traditionally female one of quilting, while fusing their different visual effects into a single work of art."

Acrylic on canvas, pieced fabric border - Private Collection


Under a Blood Red Sky

In 1999 Ringgold began working on the Coming to Jones Road Series, which focused on the escape of slaves to the north via the Underground Railroad. Here she combines a contemporary artistic practice, screen-printing with a story quilt that in image and text conveys the story of the slaves' flight to freedom. The use of bright, vibrant colors and flat, simplified shapes are both reminiscent of the work of Henri Matisse. The border is tie-dyed piecework with an outer edge of zebra striped fabric.

In the central image a large number of African-American slaves, men, women, and children, some of them carrying burdens, are making their way from the red foreground into the forest of tall green trees with blue trunks and, ultimately to the house on Jones Road. Just right of the upper center of the image, the sun can be seen. The image is bordered with text conveying the story.

The black figures on the red ground and beneath a red sky suggest the difficult struggle for freedom in a world saturated with racial violence. The small yellow sun is the only bright spot in the image, its yellow highlighted by the yellow sunbursts of the border. Ringgold explained her artistic intention; "I have tried to couple the beauty of this place with the harsh realities of its racist history to create a freedom series that turns all of the ugliness of spirit, past and present into something livable."

Many of the works in this series include landscapes. In 1992, Ringgold moved with her husband, Burdette from Harlem to Englewood, New Jersey, purchasing a home on Jones Road, saying "I came over here and landed on Jones Road - you know my maiden name is Jones, so I just felt that this was where I was supposed to be - and bought this house." Wanting to build a studio behind the new home, however, she met with a great deal of resistance from the predominantly white neighborhood, which fought the proposal, a reaction that Ringgold felt reflected racial prejudice. She responded to the experience by turning her artistic efforts toward capturing the area's natural beauty and built a garden. She said, "art is a healer and the sheer beauty of living in a garden amidst trees, plants, and flowers has inspired me to look away from my neighbors' unfolded animosity toward me and focus my attention on the stalwart traditions of black people who had come to New Jersey centuries before me." By creating Jones Road their eventual destination as her own home, Ringgold is able to enfold herself within the story as well as the history.

Silkscreen on canvas with pieced border - Pasadena City College, Pasadena, CA

Biography of Faith Ringgold


Faith Ringgold was born Faith Willi Jones and grew up in New York City. The artist has said of her own upbringing, "I grew up in Harlem during the Great Depression. This did not mean I was poor and oppressed. We were protected from oppression and surrounded by a loving family."

Her father, Andrew Louis Jones, had been a minster, among a variety of jobs he held, and was a powerful storyteller. Her mother, Willie Posey Jones, was a fashion designer who had studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Both of her parents came from families that had experienced the Great Migration, the relocation of millions of African American from the rural south to the urban north during the first half of the 20th century.

Often unable to attend school due to asthma, Ringgold was encouraged in her artistic pursuits by her mother who also taught her how to sew and use patterns. Ringgold helped with her mother's fashion shows, and said that, "She taught me how to stand up there and have a little joke and just feel comfortable with myself and to self-promote one's work." Her grandmother taught Ringgold quilting and the importance of the African-American tradition in telling stories, conveying messages, and creating community. Quilt making was a family tradition as Ringgold's grandmother had learned the art from her mother, Susie Shannon who had been a slave.

During the period known as the Harlem Renaissance, Ringgold's neighborhood was home to many African-American artists, writers, and musicians. She described her experience as "a wonderful childhood growing up in Harlem with many wonderful role models as neighbors. Among them were Thurgood Marshall, Dinah Washington, Mary McLeod Bethune, Aaron Douglass and Duke Ellington." She grew up with a sense of vibrant creative possibilities, a strong sense of family and community, of artistic practice connecting generations and diverse histories, but also an awareness of segregation, racism, and economic inequities.

Early Training

In 1950, intending to study art, Ringgold enrolled at New York's City College but, because art was then believed to be an exclusively male profession, she was required to enroll in art education in order to study art. Characteristically, she took this obstacle as a kind of challenge to be overcome, as she herself said, "I have always known that the way to get what you want is don't settle for less... I always knew I would be an artist." Ringgold also married classical and jazz musician Robert Earl Wallace that year, though the marriage ended in divorce after four years due to Wallace's drug addiction. The couple had two daughters, Michele Faith Wallace, and Barbara Faith Wallace. Ringgold graduated in 1955 with a bachelor's degree in Fine Art and Education.

At City College Ringgold studied with the artists Yasuo Koniyoshi and Robert Gwathmey, and met Robert Blackburn, with whom she later collaborated. After graduation Ringgold began teaching in the public school system in New York and began working toward a Master of Fine Arts degree at City College. Earning her degree in 1959, Ringgold said, "I got a fabulous education in art - wonderful teachers who taught me everything except anything about African art or African American art, but I traveled and took care of that part myself."

Exploring what it meant to be an African American artist, Ringgold said, "I found my artistic identity and my personal vision in the 60s by looking at African masks; and my art form through the serial paintings (Migration of the Negro series) of Jacob Lawrence. The powerful geometry of African masks and sculpture that informed Modern art is what I like best about Picasso, Matisse and the other Modern European masters I was taught to copy. It is their exquisite compositions of shape, form, color and texture that make Picasso, Matisse and Jacob Lawrence's work so wonderful."

Mature Period

Faith Ringgold Photo

Finding it difficult as an African American woman artist to find gallery representation for her work, Ringgold had a meeting with Ruth White who ran a gallery in NY in 1963 that proved life changing. White, examining Ringgold's paintings of still lifes and landscapes, told her she could not show her works. Discussing the meeting afterwards with her husband, Burdette Ringgold, whom she had married in 1962, Ringgold said, "You know something? I think what she's saying is - it's the 1960s, all hell is breaking loose all over, and you're painting flowers and leaves. You can't do that. Your job is to tell your story. Your story has to come out of your life, your environment, who you are, where you come from."

In the early 1960s, she began painting the American People Series. In 1967 an invitation from Robert Newman for a solo show at his co-op gallery Spectrum gave new impetus to the work. Painting over the summer in the then-closed gallery that Newman allowed her to use as a studio, she had time and space free of familial obligations to create major works. She followed with the Black Light Series. These two series, according to Neuberger Museum of Art's Tracy Fitzpatrick, "inform everything else she did, and you really cannot fundamentally understand the rest of her body of work without seeing it in the context of that first work."

Ringgold's work met with an indifferent response from the art world, as she described, "Some of it has been shown now and then. Like Die has been shown here and there but they were ignored primarily by the black and white art world. Amazingly ignored...During the '60s, it was not appropriate to do political art. Everything was political in the sixties, except the visual arts." Again, Ringgold responded to an obstacle as a challenge, as she put it "they did me a favor by ignoring me...And I knew that. Why should I try to please an audience I don't have? But what I thought and what I did and have done and continue to do is please myself. I wanted to tell my story. Who am I and why? "

At the same time, Ringgold became an activist for feminist and anti-racism causes. She cofounded the Ad Hoc Women's Art Committee with art critic and historian Lucy Lippard and artist Poppy Johnson to protest an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1968. No women, and no African American artists were included in the show. To protest, the group left eggs in the Whitney, and Ringgold came up with the idea of each member blowing a whistle to disrupt the show. Subsequently, Ringgold cofounded Women Students and Artists for Black Art Liberation, the National Black Feminist Organization, and "Where We At" Black Women Artists. In the early 1970s, she painted a mural For the Women's House as a permanent installation at the Women's House of Detention on Riker's Island. As a result, Art Without Walls, an organization that brings art to prison populations, was founded.

In the early 1970s Ringgold's work moved away from traditional painting as she began using fabric and experimenting with soft sculpture. Influenced by the traditional Western African use of masks, she created costumes by painting linen canvas to which she added beads, raffia hair, and painted gourds for breasts. Each work represented a character, as she said that she wanted each mask to represent a "spiritual and sculptural identity." As she intended the pieces in her Witch Mask Series to be worn, not displayed merely as art objects, she developed her first performance piece, The Wake and Resurrection of the Bicentennial Negro, a narrative that dealt with the affects of slavery and drug addiction in the African American community. Ringgold's Family of Woman Mask Series continued her work in mask costumes, while also including her life size portrait soft sculpture of NBA basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, who had made negative comments about African American women.

Continuing Practice

In 1972 on a visit to Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, Ringgold saw an exhibit of thangkas, Buddhist paintings on cloth scrolls, and was inspired to add fabric borders to her paintings as in her Slave Rape Series of 1983, which focused on the slave trade viewed from the experience of an African woman taken into slavery. Ringgold also drew upon the African American tradition of quilt making, and in 1980, working with her mother, created Echoes of Harlem, which depicted 30 local residents. Quilts allowed Ringgold to tell stories by combining images with handwritten texts. The narratives focused on a character, sometimes drawn from cultural history as in Who's Afraid of Aunt Jemima? (1983) and sometimes autobiographical as in Tar Beach or Change: Faith Ringgold's Over 100 Pounds Weight Loss Performance Story Quilt, both from 1986.

The 1980's offered Ringgold wider opportunities. She began teaching art at the University of California, San Diego in 1987, a position she held until she retired as professor emeritus in 2002. A publisher, after seeing Tar Beach, her story quilt, expressed interest in Ringgold turning the story quilt into a children's book. Tar Beach appeared in 1991 and launched Ringgold's career as an author of award winning children's books, based upon the stories and images of her art projects.

All the while Ringgold continued to develop images that questioned European art and culture from an African American perspective. In her series, The French Collection, Ringgold depicts European modernism and its seminal figures from the viewpoint of a fictitious character, a remarkable young African American woman who wants to be an artist. Her quilt story on Henri Matisse tells that artist's story from the viewpoint of his African American model.

Ringgold's style continued to evolve as she incorporated elements from contemporary art movements while simultaneously adopting new techniques into her fabric work. In the 1990's Ringgold's style was influenced by the colors and repetitive imagery of Abstract Expressionism and Pop art, and she began using applique, with fabric sewn onto the canvas, and photo-etching. In 2000 she began to use silkscreen printing on pieces that use text and borders of fabric.

Later years have offered Ringgold more opportunities to reach a larger audience. In 2010 her People Portraits, a series of 52 mosaics, was installed in the Civic center subway station in Los Angeles. In 2014 she created the billboard Groovin High as an installation piece for the High Line's train stop at 18th Street and 10th Avenue. Many of her later works are based upon her earlier story quilts. Her work, so intimately connected to her own experience as an individual in a community, has often traveled full circle to become an integral part of the community.

The Legacy of Faith Ringgold

Ringgold's work as an artist, an activist, and an educator has influenced both the art world and communities beyond the art world. Her founding or co-founding of many arts organizations focused on issues faced by women of color has created many opportunities for those artists. From 1988 to 1996, the Coast-to-Coast National Women Artists of Color Projects, which Ringgold co-founded, held exhibits featuring the work of women artists of color. The works of Beverly Buchanan, Elizabeth Catlett, Howardena Pindell, Adrian Piper, Deborah Willis, and Joyce Scott, among others, were featured in major exhibitions and also received critical attention in catalogues. Her foundation Anyone Can Fly has increased community awareness of African American art and artists for adults and children, and created community-based venues for artistic education and expression, as well.

As an artist, a noted children's book author, and as an educator, Ringgold has conducted workshops, talks, and collaborations that have influenced and inspired many young people. She has conducted Quilt Making Workshops for educators, and given talks on Quilts and Quilts and Story for adults and children, at the University of California, San Diego. Her 9/11 Peace Story Quilt was created in collaboration with Broadway Housing Communities youth. In 2016 she gave an Educator Studio Workshop at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Ringgold's work as an artist has gradually received more attention from the art world. 'American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold's Paintings of the 1960s' was the first comprehensive showing of her work at the Neuberger Museum of Art in 2010. The exhibit was also shown at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in 2013, and prompted art museums, such as the Harvard Art Museum, to add her work to their permanent collections.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Faith Ringgold
Influenced by Artist
Friends & Personal Connections
Movements & Ideas
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    Michele Wallace
Friends & Personal Connections
  • Robert Blackburn
    Robert Blackburn
  • Moira Roth
    Moira Roth
Movements & Ideas
Open Influences
Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Laurentia McIntosh, PhD

"Faith Ringgold Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. .
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Laurentia McIntosh, PhD
Available from:
First published on 07 May 2017. Updated and modified regularly
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