Essay on African American Art: Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold, a famous African American artist, contributed greatly with her paintings to the development of art in the African American society. As a feminist, Faith Ringgold took an active role in the struggle against gender discrimination in American society. Faith Ringgold became a formidable artist and personality in the United States. She is one of a very few African American women who spearheaded both the Black Art Movement and the Feminist Art Movement in the United States in the 1970s. Her narrative paintings or the story quilts became famous throughout the world. Today many of them hold honored places in the unique collections of the greatest repositories of art. This paper discusses some biographical information about the author, how her narrative paintings or the story quilts became famous throughout the world, as well as, her role as a feminist and as an individual against discrimination in American society.



It is known that today African American artists take an active part in the Cultural Revolution. According to Samella S. Lewis, driven by both aesthetic and social needs, African American artists are in search of cultural identity, self-discovery and understanding.1 Today the majority of African American artists create their own symbols in art which differ from the established and accepted European aesthetic norms and standards. In other words, they are responding to their own life styles, traditions and cultural values by creating art from the depths of their own needs, actions and reactions.2 Their artistic expression is focused on their own philosophies. The majority of African American artists realize what makes art a valuable force of society.  Faith Ringgold is one of the contemporary African American artists whose interests are based on capturing the conceptual visions of images inherent in the sculptures and masks of African American art.3. In addition, Ringgold’s style of work has contributed to the acceptance of the quilt as fine art, although earlier it had been regarded as a decorative craft. Ringgold’s works have always had a great influence on the contemporary art – they are associated with social justice and racial equality.


Faith Ringgold was born in 1930 in Harlem, New York City, the United States.  As an artist, Faith Ringgold is well-known for her unique large painted story quilts. This art includes three important elements: painting, storytelling and the use of quilted fabric. Faith Ringgold’s mother was a fashion designer and new many interesting sewing techniques. When Faith Ringgold was a child, her mother taught her to sew fabrics and make quilts. It is known that Faith Ringgold’s great-great-grandmother was a slave and she was taught to make quilts for her white masters. Her unique style first appeared in the late 1960s. In the 1970s, she represented her dynamic Tonka quilts which combined originality and creativity of the avant-garde style with the old folklore tradition of storytelling. Her new technique had some common features with Tibetan paintings which were called tankas. One of Ringgold’s new works is the American Collection which continues in the tradition of her philosophy of social commentary.4

            Today Faith Ringgold lives in San Diego. She is a Professor of Art at the University of California. As an artist and an author of manybooks, she received a number of awards, including the NAACP Image Award (1999), Moore College of Art and Design’s Visionary Women Award (2005), Harlem Arts alliance Golden Legacy Visual Arts Award (2006), Peace Corps award (2009) and some other honorary awards. In addition, it is known that Faith’s Ringgold’s works are exhibited not only in the museums of the United States and Europe, but also her unique art works can be found in the museums of Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East. In the USA, Ringgold’s works are included in the collections of such museums as the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, etc.5

It is known that the majority of Faith Ringgold’s early works were created in direct response to the racial and social injustices of the 1960s.6 Three images that will be discussed in this paper include The Flag is Bleeding of 1967, The Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger of 1969 and Big Black of 1967.  In order to discuss these works, it is necessary to refer to historical and social environment which had influenced the selected themes. Ringgold’s two earliest collections American People Series of 1963-1967 and Black Light of 1967-1969 emphasize the significance and depth of racial tensions associated with American values and common practices.7 It has been found that in the 1960s, racial confrontations in American society reflected violence, discrimination and lack of mutual understanding between people of different colors.8 Blacks practically lost their faith in American dream of equality, freedom and justice.9 The following facts prove that people fought against inequalities because of racial tensions in American society: over 2000 demonstrators for civil rights were arrested in 1965 in Alabama; during the preparation for the demonstration in Montgomery, a black man was killed by the local police officers; several blacks were arrested and convicted in disorders, etc.10 In both collections, the artist explores racial issues in the USA. Through these works of art, Faith Ringgold gives her political voice, along with the use of effective artistic tools that help to express it. Faith Ringgold, as an experienced artist and a wise woman states that our history is expressed by the generations of artists, and her works are based on her experiences and the experiences of her people. She says: I think that art and artists document the times they live in. It’s from experience that we create art and what I wanted was to tell my story.11

It is known that during the Black Arts Movement, Faith Ringgold effectively used her art to demonstrate protest against racism and gender inequality in American society.12 It has been found that in 1971, the artist became a founding member of Where We At organization established by the black women artists who wanted to develop African American visual art and to improve the status of women artists in American society. 

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