Faith Ringgold exhibition at Worcester Art Museum

The Worcester Art Museum presents “Faith Ringgold: Freedom to Say What I Please,” a focused survey of work by the renowned American artist, author, and activist. The Faith Ringgold exhibition will comprise a total of 16 artworks in a variety of media—including paintings, prints, textiles, and large-scale soft sculpture—together representing the full scope of Ringgold’s continuing career.

The central work of the exhibition will be Picasso’s Studio (1991), one of Ringgold’s most celebrated narrative quilts. A cornerstone of the Worcester Art Museum’s collection, this will be the first time it has been on view at the Museum in several years, particularly since it has been on loan for other presentations of Ringgold’s work.

“Freedom to Say What I Please” will mark the artist’s first solo exhibition in New England in nearly 15 years. Organized by Samantha Cataldo, the Worcester Art Museum’s Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, the exhibition will be on view from October 7, 2023, through March 17, 2024.

Faith Ringgold’s significance

For six decades, Ringgold has used art to investigate her place in the world, particularly her experience as a Black woman in America. From her galvanizing activist prints of the early-1970s to her more recent works, “Freedom to Say What I Please” will guide visitors through the history of America’s sociopolitical landscape through the lens of the artist’s perpetually relevant career.

Born in Harlem in 1930, Ringgold began as a painter and later expanded her practice to include a wide range of media, including sculpture, performance, and textiles. Deeply personal, celebratory of African American culture, and rooted in political activism, Ringgold’s work incorporates craft and storytelling to explore themes around identity and history.

“Since the 1960s, Faith Ringgold has built vibrant worlds, into which we are invited to celebrate the wonder and resilience of life and to have conversations around difficult truths about our history,” Matthias Waschek, the Jean and Myles McDonough Director of the Worcester Art Museum, said. “’Faith Ringgold: Freedom to Say What I Please’ will show New England how art can change lives, both on a global and a local scale. Presented during the Worcester Art Museum’s 125th anniversary year, this exhibition will be a timely reflection of our mission to connect people, communities, and cultures through art.”

About the Exhibition

Each artwork in the exhibition will be related thematically back to Picasso’s Studio, Ringgold’s painted quilt that will serve as the heart of the show. Recently presented at the New Museum in New York City in 2021 and at the Musée National Picasso-Paris in 2023, this work is one of the most celebrated examples of the artist’s signature “story quilts,” which combine painting, storytelling, and quilting. Part of Ringgold’s “French Collection” series illustrating the story of a young African American woman visiting Paris in the 1920s, Picasso’s Studio depicts the heroine modeling for Picasso against a backdrop of his Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Ringgold effectively recontextualizes the main sources behind Picasso’s work—the female body and African masks—by centering an African American woman. Though fictitious, the story is semi-autobiographical in its central theme of a young artist establishing her artistic voice in the face of racism and sexism.

The title of the exhibition is drawn from the handwritten text that borders the painting: “You asked me once why I wanted to become an artist and I said I didn’t know. Well I know now. It is because it’s the only way I know of feeling free. My art is my freedom to say what I please. N’importe what color you are, you can do what you want avec ton art. They may not like it, or buy it, or even let you know it; but they can’t stop you from doing it.”

This sentiment will be reflected by all the selected objects featured in this exhibition. This includes several prints, which will demonstrate Ringgold’s direct political activism. United States of Attica (1972), for example, was the most widely distributed of Ringgold’s posters during the 1970s, which the artist dedicated to those who died during the 1971 uprising at Attica prison.

Described by Ringgold as a “map of American violence,” this artwork depicts a map labeled with violent acts of racism and other forms of oppression in the United States as well as uprisings of Indigenous, enslaved, and immigrant peoples.

Ringgold’s ongoing interest in American histories will also be seen in her Declaration of Freedom and Independence, a suite of six paintings she created in 2009 to be proposed as a book. This series is one of several examples of how Ringgold’s past as a public school and college educator has informed her work. Each painting depicts a scene from American history that has been widely celebrated in the dominant national narrative alongside a historic scene of trauma or resilience experienced by Black people in the United States. The series calls into question the moments in American history that have been characterized as successful, asking who these accomplishments were for and at what cost.

While national, sometimes global in scope, Ringgold’s work is also influenced by her close ties with her community and her close female relationships with friends and family. The exhibition will present two human-sized soft sculptures, part of a series of early portraits of people she knows.

This will include a self-portrait of the artist from 1973 titled Family of Women Series: Faith, as well as other works inspired by her family.

About the Artist

Faith Ringgold received her BS and MA degrees in visual art from the City College of New York and has received 23 Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees. She is the recipient of more than 80 awards and honors including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship; two National Endowment for the Arts Awards; The American Academy of Arts and Letters Award and the Medal of Honor for Fine Arts from the National Arts Club.

Her work has been collected and exhibited in museums throughout the world. Ringgold is a celebrated author and illustrator of books, including 17 children’s books. She published her first book, “Tar Beach,” in 1991 as a companion to her story quilt of the same name, which has won over 20 awards including the Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King award for the best-illustrated children’s book of 1991

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