Faith Ringgold

Born 1930 New York, United States

Died 2024 New Jersey, United States

Other names Faith Willi Jones

Biography

Faith Ringgold was a painter, quilt-maker, activist, and author, whose career of over six decades addressed acts of erasure and violence as part of anti-racist and feminist politics. She is especially known for her story quilts, which combine personal narratives, history, and politics, to share her experience of living as an African-American woman in New York. Ringgold completed undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at City College of New York (1955 and 1959). Her first body of works, The American People Series (1963–67), addressed racial tensions during the Civil Rights era. In the 1970s, Ringgold began to embrace feminism through activist means, including as part of a protest outside New York museums to demand equal gender and racial representation. The same decade saw her transition from oil painting to textile works. Ringgold began to produce story quilts and children’s books from the mid-1980s. Most famous of her twenty-three children’s books is Tar Beach (1991), for which she received the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award and the Coretta Scott King Award for illustration. Ringgold taught at several schools and universities, and held Honorary Doctorates in both America and the UK. Her memoirs were published in 1995.

Artwork Information

Coming to Jones Road: Under a Blood Red Sky #7 (2006) and Coming to Jones Road: Under a Blood Red Sky #8 (2007)

The ‘Coming to Jones Road’ series is an example of Faith Ringgold’s story quilts, telling both a personal and historical story. In 1992 she moved to Jones Road in Englewood, New Jersey and encountered animosity from the predominantly white neighbourhood who prevented her from building an art studio. Her freedom to create art was challenged, reminding her how the African American journey to freedom was not over. She responded with a series of painted story quilts and prints based on Jones Road, which narrate the journey of runaway slaves fleeing the north via the Underground Railroad. The figures within the pieces are anonymous, resonant with Ringgold’s practice: ‘What I really am is a people painter… So I do people that are people because I don’t want people to say “Oh, that’s Martin Luther King” or somebody. It isn’t someone else. It’s you.”’

In Coming to Jones Road: Under a Blood Red Sky #7 two silhouetted figures ‘walk to freedom’. Vibrant red sky reflects the anguish and bloodshed African Americans have endured. Ringgold explains, ‘I have tried to couple the beauty of the place and the harsh realities of its racist history to create a freedom series that turns all the ugliness of spirit, past and present, into something livable’.

Coming to Jones Road: Under a Blood Red Sky #8 continues the two silhouetted figures’ ‘walk to freedom’. A vibrant red sky reflects the anguish and bloodshed African Americans have endured. Ringgold explains, ‘I have tried to couple the beauty of the place and the harsh realities of its racist history to create a freedom series that turns all the ugliness of spirit, past and present, into something livable’.

Associated with domesticity and craft, the medium of quilt is unexpected in traditional gallery contexts. Ringgold uses this benign medium to introduce unfamiliar and challenging narratives which may be too difficult to confront using more traditional activist methods. Language and speech are important in the story quilts due to her realisation that text on art enabled publication without editorial intervention. The medium therefore enables free expression for antiracist and feminist purposes.

 

Angels Whispering in the Night (2013)

Angels Whispering in the Night (2013) was made by Faith Ringgold and her studio assistant, Grace Matthews. It employs the graphic style and narrative mode of a children’s storybook. The innocence of the whimsical doodle-like drawings belie the seriousness of the work’s subject matter. Reading ‘Bombs flying / songs dying / mothers crying / angels flying / and whispering / in the night / everything gonna be alright’, the fairytale-like poem deals with the themes of war, death, and maternal grief. The girly handwriting and pink background reinstate the importance of women within her works, readdressing the omission of women from art history. 

This work came into the Collection in 2021 as a generous gift from Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell: the eminent astrophysicist and alumna of Murray Edwards.