Moma, October 2019
In October 2019, when Moma reopened after carrying out extension works, the most striking gesture in the vast rearrangement of the permanent collections was to place right opposite the treasure of the “Demoiselles d’Avignon”, heralding Picasso’s birth of cubism, a canvas from 1967 from the “American People” series made by a relatively unknown artist- at least in the eyes of Europe- Faith Ringgold (born in 1930).
How to explain the cohabitation of this African American contemporary artist and the modern painter, Malaga native? The answer can be found in Paris at the Picasso Museum, until 2 July. The institution is staging an exhibition featuring around fifty works by the American artist, with a spotlight on the large-scale 1967 painting from Moma. It depicts a riot scene in a city, done in a Pop Art style.
As the president of the Picasso Museum, Cécile Debray, explains, “the background is grey, like in Guernica, Picasso’s other star painting, dating from 1937, which Faith was inspired by. At the time the canvas, which addressed the massacre in the Basque town, was also on display at Moma. We recognize the posture of certain figures, with their heads lowered or lifting their arms to the sky.”Ringgold is effective in her portrayal of the panic causing men and women, black and white, to run in all directions, eyes bulging. Blood is flowing.
Dorian Bergen, president of ACA in New York, which has been her gallery since 1995, explains: “Faith was given her name because her mother thought that as a black woman she would have to work doubly hard to make her way in life.” The artist, a lover of liberty and justice, would portray the fate reserved for black people in America at the time.
“I simply wanted to show things in my own way,” she explains in the catalogue. From the 1970s onwards, for her large-scale works she moved to making compositions on fabric, patchwork pieces, which do not require major handling according to Dorian Bergen. She included stories that she wasn’t able to publish in book form. She thus created a collection of eight quilts, assemblages of fabrics that reference the legends of modern art… including Picasso.
Willia Marie Simone
This is the series entitled “The French Collection”, starring a fictional heroine, the 1920s African American artist who ventures through the world of modern art in Paris named Willia Marie Simone.
In “Picasso’s Studio” the artist writes on the material itself: “Les demoiselles d’Avignon with tortured twisted faces Europeanized in Picasso’s Brothel theme, made a contre-attaque on the wisdom of the African masks. ”You go ahead girl and try this art thing” they whispered to me in a women of the world voice straight from the evening. “We don’t want him to hear us talking, but we just want to let you know you don’t have to give up nothing”.
To protect her children
In 1976 Faith made another of her very striking compositions, an American flag dripping with blood. In 1997 she created a new version of it in fabric, in which a black mother, giant in size, tries to protect her children. It was her own mother who taught her to sew the quilts that often covered the beds in the households of black families. She has turned them into objects of political art, which are not recognized for their true worth.
The exhibition at the Picasso Museum is a version of the one staged at the New Museum in 2022
Faith Ringgold. Until 2 July. Musée Picasso. Paris. www.museepicassoparis.fr/fr/faith-ringgold
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