An impressive synthesis of influences, along with an obdurate resistance to being told what she can or cannot do, forms the bedrock of Ringgold’s art.
Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima?
As with most stories worth telling, my encounter with Faith Ringgold began auspiciously on a dark and rainy day. Sometime in early 2016 in a museum an hour north of New York City, I stood before a large hanging quilt by Ringgold, entitled “Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima?” (1983).
The quilt was composed of alternating grids of illustrated figures and handwritten text. Alone in the museum, I had the luxury of reading each panel closely. The panels told the fictional story of Aunt Jemima Blakey as a successful entrepreneur, upending a familiar derogatory stereotype. Ringgold had imagined an enthralling tale for Jemima and her family, yet the work’s autobiographical undertones are undeniable. This tendency to channel herself and her family through fictional characters in her work recurs throughout her career.
In late 2018, I interviewed Ringgold to learn more about her life and career, which encompasses over 60 astounding years of art making. As late as I was to her work, I was consoled by the fact that MoMA had only recently acquired (in 2016) what is considered her first major painting, “American People Series #20: Die” (1967).
Ken Tan, Hyperalleric