Faith Ringgold’s New Museum Retrospective Plays It Safe in a Way the Artist Didn’t

Works that directly reference thangkas are included in “The Feminist Series” (1972-1973) and “Slave Rape” (1972). In “The Feminist Series,” Ringgold blurs East Asian iconography through typeface and style on thangkas to blur stories of belonging outside the Euro-American canon of artistic creation. The “Slave Rape” thangkas are disturbing with their figurative focus on the sexual exploitation and violence committed against black women during the slave trade. Ringgold confronts our gaze directly by presenting his facial likeness on these women as a way to connect and mend the temporal gap between past and present. Ringgold’s investment in linking the narrative of slavery as part of the symbology of America should not be overlooked. And yet, one walks away from the exhibition with the feeling that more could have been done to situate Ringgold’s interests in the representation of black American culture through the varied narratives of his work and the incorporation of other practices. non-Euro-American cultures.

The absence of her first experiences in the exhibition makes Ringgold an artist in her own right with a well-defined boundary in artistic creation. For a survey exhibition this may be sufficient, but for a retrospective it leaves a lot to be desired. Missing from the exhibition are Ringgold’s early oil paintings from the 1950s, his later painting experiences from the 2000s, and his more autobiographical pieces. A critical work of autobiography, Change: Faith Ringgold’s 100+ Pound Weight Loss Performance Story Quilt (1986), is featured in “Faith Ringgold: American People” and reveals a complicated side of Ringgold’s feminist practices. It recounts Ringgold’s experiences and thoughts on weight loss, using fat both as a physical component of the body and as a metaphor for overthinking critically. The three-piece quilt, which includes Change 2 (1988) and Change 3 (1991), is replete with internalized patriarchal commentaries on women’s bodies. We see the extent and burden of Ringgold’s upbringing working against her body as a black woman in the mid-twentieth century, where her expectations were to be a respectable and devoted wife and mother.

About Margaret L. Portillo

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