“If One Can, Anyone Can, All You Gotta Do Is Try” | Faith Ringgold, Pioneering And Visionary Artist And Author Dies At 93

Born in Harlem in 1930, her art, infused with feminist and racial themes, exudes optimism while addressing social issues of race and gender with a vibrant style, often drawing from her memories of life in Harlem. From her acclaimed children's book Tar Beach to her iconic Who's Afraid of Aunt Jemima quilt series, Ringgold challenged stereotypes and celebrated Black culture.

by GRIOT - Published on 14/04/2024

Renowned US artist Faith Ringgold, known for her vibrant narrative quilts, has passed away at 93. Ringgold’s groundbreaking works, blending painting, textiles, and storytelling, adorn collections worldwide, including prestigious institutions like the Smithsonian and the Museum of Modern Art. Facing challenges as a Black female artist in a predominantly white and male-dominated art world, and in a political cultural where Black men were the leading voices for civil rights, Ringgold co-founded the Where We At collective, advocating for Black women’s representation and protesting the exclusion of Black and female artists in museums.

Faith Ringgold, Dancing on the George Washington Brodge II, 2020

Themes such as the unity of the Black family, Black female independence and embodiment, Black male-female relationships, contemporary social conditions, and African traditions were central to the work of the WWA artists. The group was intended to serve as a source of empowerment for African-American women, providing a means for them to control their self-representation and to explore issues of Black women’s sensibility and aesthetics.  “I became a feminist out of disgust for the manner in which women were marginalized in the art world,” she told The New York Times in 2019. “I began to incorporate this perspective into my work, with a particular focus on Black women as slaves and their sexual exploitation.”

Faith Ringgold, United States of Attica, 1972
Faith Ringgold, Women Free Angela, 1971

In the early 1960s, Ringgold explored Europe, producing her initial political paintings, The American People Series, spanning 1963 to 1967. Her artistic journey gained momentum with her first and second solo exhibitions at the Spectrum Gallery in New York. Transitioning into the early 1970s, Ringgold delved into soft sculptures, masks and embraced quilting, drawing inspiration from Tibetan paintings knowns as thangkas. This medium found further expression in her masked performances throughout the 1970s and 80s.

While Ringgold’s art initially drew from African influences in the 1960s, her immersion in Nigerian and Ghanaian culture in the late 1970s profoundly influenced her work, particularly through the tradition of masks.

She made her first quilt, Echoes of Harlem, in 1980, in collaboration with her mother, Madame Willi Posey, a seamstress and dress designer. The quilts were an extension of her tankas from the 1970’s. However, these paintings were not only bordered with fabric but quilted, creating for her a unique way of painting using the quilt medium.

The inception of Ringgold’s iconic story quilts began with Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima? in 1983, serving as a platform for her unfiltered expression. This integration of text into her quilts became a distinctive hallmark of her style.

Faith Ringgold, The sunflower quilting bee at Arles, 1997

In 1991, Crown Publishers released Ringgold’s groundbreaking children’s book, Tar Beach, based on her renowned story quilt from The Woman on a Bridge Series. This acclaimed work garnered numerous awards, including the Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King award. HBO later adapted it into an animated film in 2010.

Continuing her literary journey, Ringgold published Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky in 1992 and Dinner at Aunt Connie’s in 1993. Her autobiography, “We Flew Over the Bridge: The Memoirs of Faith Ringgold targeted an adult audience and was released by Bullfinch in 1995.

Beyond her art, Ringgold’s legacy includes public works like the People Portraits mosaic in Los Angeles and her impactful 9/11 Peace Story Quilt, created in collaboration with New York City students ages 8 to 19. Passionate about education, she authored children’s books introducing young readers to prominent Black figures.

Born in Harlem in 1930, Ringgold attended City College of New York where she earned bachelor and master’s degrees in art. She was a professor of art at the University of California in San Diego from 1987 until 2002.

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