Urgent Museum Notice

American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s

Modernist portrait of a dark-skinned woman with her hair styled in a 1960's updo, wearing pearl earrings and a pearl necklace. In a style akin to Cubism, solid-colored shapes in browns, blues, black and orange, are arranged to create the overall image.
Jun 21 to Nov 10, 2013

Faith Ringgold (b. 1930) is well known for originating the African American story quilt revival in the late 1970s. In the previous decade, she created bold, provocative paintings in direct response to the Civil Rights and feminist movements. Ringgold’s unprecedented exploration of race and gender in America is examined in this comprehensive survey of 49 rarely-exhibited paintings.

In 1963, Ringgold began work on a series of 20 paintings entitled American People. Rendered in a style that synthesizes post-cubist Picasso, pop art, and traditional African sculpture, these paintings present subjects who are black and white, male and female, and rich and poor. Grouped closely together, the figures reflect the tension arising from interracial contact that Ringgold observed and felt directly.

The exhibition also includes Ringgold’s Black Light paintings made between 1967 and 1969. A number of these canvases feature mask-like faces that reflect Ringgold’s interest in African art and design. Painted in nuanced shades of black, the works are expressive of Ringgold’s engagement with the broader “black is beautiful” movement. In other works from this series, Ringgold painted words inside geometric fields of color. These bold compositions refer to events that shaped the late 1960s, including race riots and the manned Apollo missions to the moon.

Semi-cubist painting of a black man, white woman, and white man linking arms, superimposed with the American flag. The black man, partially obscured by the stars on the flag, clutches his bleeding chest with one hand and holds a knife in the other. The red stripes of the flag drip as if bleeding.

Faith Ringgold, American People Series #18: The Flag Is Bleeding, 1967; Oil on canvas, 72 x 96 inches, Courtesy of Faith Ringgold and ACA Galleries, New York; © Faith Ringgold 1967 Photo courtesy ACA Galleries, New York

Exhibition Sponsors

American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s is organized by the Neuberger Museum of Art. The exhibition is sponsored by Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. Its presentation at NMWA is made possible by Northern Trust and Share Fund. Additional funding is provided by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, an agency supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, and the members of NMWA.

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Related Media

Educator’s Guide: Faith Ringgold

This resource packet contains images of nine early works by renowned artist Faith Ringgold. Information about the artist and each of these works of art is also included, together with suggested discussion questions for each artwork. You will also find worksheets outlining suggested classroom activities.
Divided into a grid of nine squares, this modernist painting depicts a stylized face with the eyes, nose, and mouth each consigned to separate squares. Solid-colored shapes in grays, muted blues, dark orange, black, and white are arranged to create the features of the face.

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