Over a long career Faith Ringgold has used her art to support civil rights for African Americans and feminist causes. The first retrospective of her work in France makes the message clear through its title "Black is Beautiful".
Ringgold was born in 1930 in Harlem and grew up surrounded by the art, literature and music of the Harlem Renaissance in African American arts. She continued to live there for decades, making art and teaching in a public school.
In 1963, the year of the Civil Rights Act, Faith Ringgold began a long series on ordinary racism: American People. It was followed In 1967 by a series of Black Light paintings the slogan “Black is Beautiful”. In the early 70s she gave her political engagement a more concrete form, creating militant posters for the Black Power movement.
"I didn’t want people to be able to look and look away. Because a lot of people do that with art. I want them to look and see. I want to grab their eyes and hold them, because this is America.” Faith Ringold
Ringgold is perhaps best known for her textile paintings or “tankas” and story quilts. Her first series of a tankas, a Tibetan and Nepalese art form, cast an unflinching look at the legacy of slavery. The quilts are a common form in American folk art, particularly seen as a woman’s art. The 12 quilt series called The French Colection are based on her memories of a stay in France in 1961. They celebrate flourishing African-American art and also pay homage to artists who inspired her. Around central paintings, Ringgold adds multiple texts.
"With The French Collection I wanted to show there were Black people when Picasso, Monet, and Matisse were making art. I wanted to show that African art and Black people had a place in that history."
After returning from a trip to Africa, Ringgold joined the Black Arts Movement. To counterpoint celebrations of the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1976, she created a travelling performance show about black Americans' experience of those 200 years, The Wake and Resurrection of the Bicentennial Negro (1976–89), She took it to universities across the country, involving students in the performances, which featured extracts from Martin Luther King's, "I Have a dream” speech and gospel songs.
As well as to continuing to work in textiles and paint, Ringgold has also become a popular children’s book author and illustrator of books with African American protagonists or about figures from black history like HarrietTubman and Rosa Parks.
The first retrospective of her work in France, the exhibition at the Picasso Museum highlights similarities between Ringgold’s work and Picasso’s, especially Les demoiselles d’Avignon and Guernica.
Faith Ringgold: Black is Beautiful
Musée Picasso Paris
From 31 January to 2 July 2023 (tickets half price till 7 March)
There's a dossier documentaire with teaching tips you can download
This exhibition would be a good addition to the article to Shine Bright 1e File 8 African-American Art, Shine Bright 3e File 6 Move on up, or Shine Bright AMC File 5 Black Lives Matter.
United States of Attica, 1972, Lithographie Offset, 55 × 69,6 cm, Courtesy de l’artiste et ACA Galleries, New York. © Faith Ringgold /
ARS, NY and DACS, London, courtesy ACA Galleries, New York 2022
American People Series #18: The Flag Is Bleeding, 1967, oil on canvas, 182,9 x 243,8 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund and Gift of Glenstone Foundation (2021.28.1). © Faith Ringgold / ARS, NY and DACS, London, courtesy ACA Galleries, New York 2022
Picasso’s Studio: The French Collection Part I, #7, 1991, acrylic on canvas, printed and dyed fabric, ink, 185,4 x 172,7 cm, Worcester Art Museum; Charlotte E. W. Buffington Fund. © Faith Ringgold / ARS, NY and DACS, London, courtesy ACA Galleries, New York 2022
The Wake and Resurrection of the Bicentennial Negro, 1975-89, mixed media, Courtesy the artist and ACA Galleries, New York. © Faith Ringgold
/ ARS, NY and DACS, London, courtesy ACA Galleries, New York 2022. Photo: Ron Amstutz; courtesy Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland.
Early Works #25: Self-Portrait, 1965, oil on canvas, 127 x 101,6 cm, Brooklyn Museum; Gift of Elizabeth A. Sackler, 2013.96. © Faith Ringgold
/ ARS, NY and DACS, London, courtesy ACA Galleries, New York 2022