Essay on African American Art: Faith Ringgold

The Flag is Bleeding of 1967

The major goal of Faith Ringgold as an African American artist is to demonstrate the injustices of discrimination in American society. In The Flag is Bleeding, the artist represents three solemn figures a black man, a white man and a white woman who are joined together behind the stars and stripes.13 They are the citizens of the USA. Standing arm in arm, they promote the idea of freedom and justice in American society, but the wounded black man


Fig. 1 Faith Ringgold, American People Series: The Flag Is Bleeding, 1967, oil on canvas, 72 x 96 inches. Courtesy of Faith Ringgold and ACA Galleries, New York.

bears a knife and the American flag drips blood.14 One more important fact is that the white woman can be viewed as the so-called binding intermediary between the white man and the black man. This fact means that although women in American society play a significant role, they take the subordinate place and depend on men. In this work, the artist discusses the issues of racial and gender discrimination in American society.

The Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger of 1969

One of Ringgold’s most compelling works is Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger of 1969, from the Black Light series (Fig.2). In this work, Faith Ringgold incorporated the image of the American flag. In one of the interviews she said: 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.15


Fig. 2 Faith Ringgold, Black Light: Flag for the Moon, Die Nigger, 1969, oil on canvas 36 x 50 inches. Courtesy of Faith Ringgold and ACA Galleries, New York.

This painting represents Ringgold’s concern with racial issues and she tries to find out what the color black stands for. It has been found that she conceived the idea after seeing the paintings of American artist Ad Reinhardt which discuss the optical possibilities of black.16 In her flag, black color is symbolic as it is absorbing other colors. She considers that African American art must use its own color black to create its own light, since that color is the most immediate black truth.17 In Flag for the Moon, Die Nigger, the artist uses irony connected with the landing of Apollo II on the Moon in 1969.

Big Black of 1967

In Big Black of 1967, from the Black Light series, Faith Ringgold represents the tonal range of the skin of African Americans. She uses some abstracted studies of facial elements suggested by different African masks (Fig. 3).


Fig.3 Faith Ringgold, Black Light Series: Big Black, 1967, oil on canvas, 30.25 x 42.25 inches. Courtesy of Faith Ringgold and ACA Galleries, New York.

It has been found that this display of facial characteristics is represented in nine sections.  The most important idea of Big Black is the artist’s exploration of the formal elements, properties, capabilities of the color black in American society.17 This painting is unique as it revolves around its black color, and its ability to emit light. Moreover, this work helps viewers to examine its formal qualities and realize how Faith Ringgold effectively uses her own palette in expression of her ideas.


Faith Ringgold can be called a revolutionary artist because in her works, she managed to challenge many tenets of Western art world and helped give voice to people traditionally excluded from the mainstream of the art world.18 In addition, it is necessary to say that she has been regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 1960-70s. Of course, her art was influenced by the historical and social environment.

The major world events that had a historic significance include the period of Great Depression of 1929-1939, the World War II (1939-1945), Korean war of 1950-53, the establishment and the spread of the African Independence Movement (1957), the end of Vietnam Way (1975), the dissolution of the USSR of 1991. In her works, Faith Ringgold managed to create an absolutely new visual language which helped her to express both her own experience and the experience of her generation.19

It is known that in 1970s, Faith Ringgold was involved in the feminist movement.20 She protested not only against the racist exclusion of African-American artists from art galleries and museums in the USA, but also she turned her attention to gender inequalities in the world of art.21 In 1971, she helped to establish the group Where We At and protested against the exclusion of women from well-known groups of African American art world, such as Spiral.22 Some other artists of Ringgold’s generation have been influenced by her works. Among them are Robert Colescott, Glenn Ligon, Lorraine O’Grady.23

In addition, many of Ringgold’s quilts are closely connected with her bibliography. For example, in Ringgold’s Coming to Jones Road Series, the author describes her personal experiences which are reflected in her quilts. She writes: I needed to create a sense of community in the new home on Jones Road.24








In conclusion, it is necessary to say that African American artists have always played an important role in American culture. Faith Ringgold’s works help to better understand the major failures of American democratic ideals and offer the hopes for reconstructed American dream that will include the representatives of racial minorities. The images in Ringgold’s works from the Black Light Series and American People Series depict racial tensions of the1960s that occurred in the United States. Faith Ringgold is not only a talented painter and quilt-maker, whose works address the major African American problems raised in American society, but also she is a teacher and a writer who shares her political ideas and experience with others. Faith Ringgold devoted her life and her art to challenging the racial and gender equalities of American society. Moreover, it has been found that her unique story quilts became the first attempts in creation a feminist art.


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