Art Is Political: My Personal Tribute to Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold, whose quilts brought new life to the Black American experience, passed away on April 12th, 2024, at age 93. 

She was born Faith Willi Jones in 1930 in Harlem, New York—her identity as a New Yorker seeps through in her work. As a child of the Harlem Renaissance, she was exposed to the legendary arts and music creatives, such as jazz singer Dinah Washington and Duke Ellington. Due to having such a vibrant and creative childhood, despite the impending Great Depression, her mother encouraged her to find outlets for her blossoming creativity. She was exposed to quilt-making, which was instrumental in Southern Black America to preserve the legacy of their family and culture and, in some instances, served as a means of income for many Black American women. 

My first encounter with her work was her quilts. I was instantly reminded of the quilts in my home and how my grandma talked about the quilt-making tradition of her grandmother’s roots in Louisana. One that stands out most is Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima. The quilt takes aim at the racist “mammy” stereotype that was associated with the Aunt Jemima brand. This “story quilt” was the first one that Faith created and showcased her writing chops and artistic skills. The quilt showcased her overall disdain for the lack of positive and reaffirming representations of Black women while spotlighting the successful Black woman. She embodied the saying, “Fine, I’ll do it myself,” when creating this piece. 

She embodied the saying, “Fine, I’ll do it myself.”

Faith understood that art is political and utilized her skills and talent to bring awareness to social justice initiatives, including women’s liberation and anti-racism. A prime example of this can be seen in her work titled For the Women’s House, 1971. This mural was dedicated to the women incarcerated in the Correctional Institution for Women on Rikers Island. The piece showcased women in various occupations, enjoying and living their daily lives. For the Women’s House was groundbreaking in the sense that it humanized these women despite how the US Justice system continuously demonizes and fails those who are part of the system—creating the mural resurrected Faith in the women of Rikers Island and all women’s correctional facilities. 

Click image to enlarge.

I was 22 when I first came across Faith Ringgold’s work. As a young Black American woman studying abroad in a seaside resort town in England, I was excited to find a Black American woman’s artwork that “spoke “to me. Her groundbreaking exhibit, Faith Ringgold: American People, at the New Museum in 2022 was the first retrospective of her work in her hometown of New York, a long-overdue one. American People showcased Faith’s dedication to exploring the experience of being a Black woman in America. When I initially did a review of American People, I wasn’t sure where to begin; where do you start with someone who has continuously advocated for herself in spaces that were not welcoming of her? She embodied everything I wanted to accomplish within my creative practice as a writer and a Black woman. 

However, I learned more about myself and Faith by writing my review of the exhibit. Her pieces, such as American People Series #20: Die, 1967, and American People Series #18: The Flag Is Bleeding, 1967, highlight her ability to creatively express her thoughts on how intertwined violence and racism are within the United States. She forces her viewers to reckon with their privileges and biases to understand our nation’s history. By engaging with this work, I’ve been better able to put in context the US’s current political climate and how to convey my thoughts on it. 

Faith’s travels abroad were seen as a significant milestone in her career. Upon receiving her master’s degree from the City College of New York in 1959, she decided to jet off to France in 1961 with her young daughters and mother to immerse herself in art. This sparked something within her that would transpire 30 years later in the creation of The French Collection. The French Collection is a series of story quilts, Faith’s specialty that explores the life of Willia Marie Simone, a young Black American woman who leaves Harlem for Paris. Faith’s Black feminist ideology is seen throughout each quilt; one of my favorites of the series is Dinner at Gertrude Stein’s. This quilt is a prime example of how Faith explores the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality by depicting the likes of James Baldwin, Zora Neal Hurston, and Gertrude Stein within the piece. By placing the young Willia Marie Simone within this space, she recreates the idea of the “American Dream” and makes it accessible to Black women. 

Faith was outspoken about her passions.

Faith was outspoken about her passions, which, after learning about her, inspires me to speak freely and openly about what I stand for as a Black woman and writer in America. Her daughter, Michele Wallace, continues her mother’s legacy through her writing that explores Black feminism. Her work, such as The Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman and Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory, explores Black feminism within pop culture and beyond. 

This is a tribute to the life of Faith Ringgold and how she will continue to inspire young Black creatives. We owe it to her to continue to create and always be bold. 

© Jessica Bond (4/15/24) – Special for FF2 Media

LEARN MORE/DO MORE

Read about Faith Ringgold’s Narrative History Quilts from FF2’s Jessica Bond.

Read our recent coverage of Faith Ringgold’s Pop Art-Style Political Posters from FF2’s Elisa Shoenberger.

Faith Ringgold’s work traveled to San Francisco in 2022. Check out coverage from FF2’s Jessica Bond.

Revisit our Black History Month celebration of Faith Ringgold by FF2’s Jessica Bond.

CREDITS & PERMISSIONS

Featured photo: Faith Ringgold with The American Collection #6: The Flag is Bleeding #2, 1997 celebrated in an exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries in London, UK on June 5, 2019. Photo Credit: Guy Bell / Alamy Live News. Image ID: TC32A8 Important note: Faith’s first exhibition was in London and it took many years for her to be acknowledged in United States art galleries.

Middle photo: Faith Ringgold’s 1965 Self-Portrait based on a photograph taken by Jan Lisa Huttner on 4/8/22 at Manhattan’s New Museum.

Bottom photo: Faith Ringgold with The American Collection #1: We Came to America, 1997 and The American Collection #6: The Flag is Bleeding #2, 1997 celebrated in an exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries in London, UK on June 5, 2019. Photo Credit: Guy Bell / Alamy Live News. Image ID: TC32A2

Tags: Faith Ringgold, Faith Ringgold: American People, Jessica Bond, Quilts, rest in peace, Tribute

Related Posts

by
Jess joined FF2 Media as a 2020 graduate of Temple University's journalism program. She has a passion for the arts and using writing as a tool to spread awareness on social issues, independent and small artists. She is a 2021-2022 Fulbright recipient to the University of Sussex, getting her MA in Media and Cultural Studies. She hopes to become an international journalist focusing on local communities and showing the beauty within them.
Previous Post Next Post