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Who Was Faith Ringgold?

Dec 23, 2022 10:00AM ● By Anand Subramanian

“I think I had struck on a combination of imagery and politics that worked.”

-Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold is one of the most significant cultural personalities of her time, with a career that spans several disciplines and eras, from the Harlem Renaissance to the political artwork of today's young Black artists. Ringgold has used autobiography and collective history over the last sixty years to record her life as an artist and mother and to highlight the fight for social justice and equality. Faith Ringgold has left a body of work as a testament to the complexity of the American experience, from producing some of the most enduring artworks of the civil rights movement to questioning traditional hierarchies of art vs. craft via her experimental tale quilts.

Faith Ringgold was born Faith Willi Jones in Harlem, New York City, in 1930. Faith's mother was a seamstress and fashion designer, and she was always encouraged to follow her artistic interests. 

When Ringgold first began making oil paintings and posters in the mid to late 1960s, they were laden with political themes in favor of the civil rights struggle. At some point in the early 1970s, she stopped using conventional painting techniques. Ringgold, however, switched to creating paintings on unstretched canvas with opulent fabric borders reminiscent of Tibetan thangkas. Inspired by traditional African dress, she and her mother, Willi Posey, created complex hooded masks out of cloth, beads, and raffia. Some of these paintings were employed by Ringgold in Performance Works, the first of which, Wake and Resurrection of the Bicentennial Negro, was first presented in 1976 by students engaging her masks, life-size figures, and thangkas, along with voice, music, and dance. Ringgold expanded the scale of her thangka paintings to fit the dimensions of a quilt. In 1983, Ringgold started incorporating handwritten text into her painted "story quilts," which tell fantastic, open-ended tales; in the first, Who's Afraid of Aunt Jemima? (1983). Ringgold demonstrated the significance of family, origins, and creative cooperation using craft methods while challenging the conventional divide between fine art and craft. 

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Multiple awards have been given to her in recognition of her work as an artist, educator, and activist, including two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts for sculpture (1978) and painting (1989), a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1987), and sixteen honorary doctorates. Faith's journey has been brave, insightful, and honest in its portrayal of modern society. Along the way, Faith left behind a legacy in the form of acclaimed children's novels like Tar Beach. She has been a driving force and artistic visionary for over sixty years, and her work has helped establish her as one of the most brilliant artists in history.

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 Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and  Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.

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