These days, many people question what it means to be American. This is a topic that artist Faith Ringgold has been focused on for the past 50 years. It’s a topic explored at length in her exhibition Faith Ringgold: American People which made its West Coast debut at the de Young museum on July 16th.
The retrospective features objects such as soft sculptures, evocative costumes, ephemera, experimental story quilts, and her renowned painting series American People and Black Light. The exhibition shows how Ringgold expanded and adapted her artistic practice to meet the social and political changes taking place in America throughout her life.
“As an artist, author, educator, and organizer, Faith Ringgold is one of the most influential cultural figures of her generation, inspiring young artists working today through her decades of activism and action,” stated Thomas P. Campbell, Director, and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “We are thrilled to present Faith Ringgold: American People at the de Young museum this summer. On view at the same time as The Obama Portraits Tour, the legacy of groundbreaking Black artists will resound throughout our galleries.”
The exhibition features Ringgold’s best-known series American People and Black Light, which captured the tumultuous events of the 1960s. Her support for the Black Power movement is embodied by her political posters such as Free Angela (1971), in reference to the imprisonment of Black Panther member and feminist activist, Angela Davis.
Ringgold’s renowned story quilts will also be on view. These quilts are among her most well-known artworks, inspired by the social conditions and cultural transformations throughout her life, from the Harlem Renaissance to life as a working mother, artist, and activist.
Ringgold is also known for her beloved children’s book, Tar Beach, which she wrote and illustrated. Told from the point of view of eight-year-old Cassie Louise Lightfoot, the story is set on the rooftop of her apartment building in 1930s Harlem. Cassie looks out across the city and dreams about being able to go wherever she wants, without permission or boundaries. One night, her dreams come true and the stars lift her up, allowing her to fly over the city, claiming it as her own.
Ringgold’s work is whimsical, playful, and beautiful to look at. At the same time, each piece tells a deeper and more complicated story, often inspiring and sometimes heartbreaking. Ringgold is an immensely talented artist and this exhibition is a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in her world and, perhaps, gain a new perspective on your own.
Faith Ringgold: American People will be on display at the de Young Museum from July 16 – November 27.
Featured Image: © 2022 Faith Ringgold / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Courtesy ACA Galleries, New York