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Faith Ringgold's Paintings of the 1960s are the Focus of an Exhibition
Faith Ringgold, American People Series, The Flag is Bleeding, 1967, oil on canvas. Collection of the artist, c. Faith Ringgold. Courtesy ACA Galleries, NY.

PURCHASE, NY.- For fifty years, Faith Ringgold, has used her art to comment on racism and gender inequality. Though best known as the progenitor of the African American story quilt revival that began in the 1970s, it is her pointed political paintings of the 1960s – many of which disappeared from view -- that are the focus of American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960 – on view at the Neuberger Museum of Art, in Purchase, New York, from September 11 – December 19, 2010. The Neuberger Museum has organized this first comprehensive survey of these early paintings to coincide with the artist’s eightieth birthday. Approximately sixty works are on view.

Featured are Ringgold’s two earliest series, American People (1962-1967) and Black Light (1967-1969), which have not been seen together since they were first exhibited in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In both series, the artist explores the issues that were at the forefront of her experience of racial conflict in the United States. In the her words, “American People is about the condition of black and white America and the paradoxes of integration felt by many black Americans.” In one of her most compelling works, “Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger” (1969), from the Black Light series, she used the image of the American flag, placing the word “die” behind the stars, and “nigger” within the stripes. She once explained to an interviewer: “It would be impossible for me to picture the American flag just as a flag, as if that is the whole story. I need to communicate my relationship with this flag based on my experience as a black woman in America.”

Such text-based works prompted political posters such as People’s Flag Show (1970), produced for an exhibition organized by Ringgold and two fellow artists, in support, in part, of a gallerist who was arrested for exhibiting antiwar sculpture fabricated out of the American flag. The exhibition contained over 200 works made from or about the American flag and Ringgold was arrested and convicted of violating the Flag Protection Act of 1968. Another poster, United States of Attica (1971), her most widely distributed poster of the 1970s, was created in response to an uprising of prisoners in the NY State Attica prison. The image of a map of the U.S. describes acts of violence in America. At the bottom of the image Ringgold writes, “This map of American violence is incomplete. Please write in whatever you find lacking."

It was through these paintings, posters, and murals from the 1960s that Ringgold found her political voice. It was also through these works that she discovered artistic methods to express that voice, methods critical to understanding all that the artist has since created. More broadly, these works are critical to re-conceptualizing our understanding of artistic production in the 1960s. In a period defined by the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, it is incongruous that the art of the period is defined by the rather sterile movements of pop art and minimalism, movements that generally fail to connect with the social and political circumstances of the time. Faith Ringgold’s work offers not only clear insight into that critical moment in the history of our country, but also insight into what it meant to be an African American woman making her way as an artist at the time.

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