Working tirelessly for the past five decades, the American artist Faith Ringgold is widely celebrated for her narrative quilts, telling stories of her life and those of others in the black community. A social activist and self-described “black woman in America”, she has been challenging perceptions of African American identity and gender inequality through the lenses of the feminist and the civil rights movements.
The groundbreaking work of this celebrated artist will soon be on view at the Serpentine Galleries. Her first exhibition in a European institution will bring together some of the most important series from her 50-year career, featuring paintings, story quilts, soft sculptures and political posters made during the Black Power movement including one to free activist Angela Davis.
Growing up in the creative and intellectual context of the Harlem Renaissance, Faith Ringgold has been working prolifically since the 1960s, with her art and activism being inextricably intertwined. Combining quilt making, genre painting, and storytelling through images and hand-written texts, she confronted prejudice directly and made political statements.
In her work, she combines her African heritage and artistic traditions with her artistic training, dissecting the notion of the American dream to expose the uncomfortable realities of racial and gender inequality. Drawing from a wide range of references, from the traditions of quilt-making and its position within the history of slavery to early European Modernism to tankas – richly brocaded Tibetan paintings – and the graphic symbolism of African masks, her work provides insight into perceptions of white culture by African Americans and vice versa.
Throughout her career, Ringgold has been dedicated to expanding the art canon to include African American artists. By the 1970s, she was leading protests against the lack of diversity in the exhibitions program at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. In 1973, she co-founded the group the National Black Feminist Organization with her then 18-year-old daughter, Michele Wallace and in 2016, she published We Came to America, a children’s book that celebrates cultural diversity.
She is best known for her narrative quilts, which combine her personal stories and writings with the history of African Americans. She developed a tradition once practiced by her great-great-grandmother Susie Shannon, who was born into slavery and produced quilts for plantation owners. In her much-read autobiography, We Flew Over the Bridge, she wrote:
I have always wanted to tell my story, or, more to the point, my side of the story.
The exhibition will be on view at Serpentine Galleries in London from June 6th until September 8th, 2019.
It will be celebrated with a series of activations in London and New York, created in partnership with MATCHESFASHION.COM. These include a Faith Ringgold Reading Room at 5 Carlos Place, London W1, showcasing books and music that have inspired the artist, which is open to the public throughout June.
The audience will also have an opportunity to enjoy a Serpentine Big Family Weekend inspired by Ringgold’s work as educator and children’s author which will explore themes of art and activism, poetry and print with artist-led workshops and performances for children and families on June 29th and 30th.
Featured image: Faith Ringgold - Jazz Stories: Mama Can Sing, Papa Can Blow #1: Somebody Stole My Broken Heart (detail), 2004. All images courtesy of Serpentine Gallery.