Faith Ringgold: Mastering the Intersection of Art and Activism

Apr 25, 2023 | Art Insights, Artist Interviews

Written by: Chiara Atoyebi

Fig. 1. Ringgold, Faith. Free Woman, free Yourself, 1971. Photograph. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

Faith Ringgold is an artist who has consistently defied categorization, working across disciplines and media to explore the intersections of art, politics, and race. Ringgold, was also awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by WCA in 1994. Throughout her career, Ringgold has developed a body of work that addresses the challenges and triumphs of the African American experience, offering a powerful critique of the structural inequalities and systemic racism that continue to shape American society.

Born in Harlem in 1930, Ringgold grew up in a family of artists and musicians who were committed to social justice and political activism. She attended the City College of New York in the 1950s, where she studied art and education, and later earned a master’s degree in art from the City University of New York. During this time, she became involved in the Civil Rights Movement, participating in protests and demonstrations and using her art to advance the cause.

Ringgold’s early work was characterized by an interest in narrative and storytelling, often drawing on her own experiences and those of her community. In the 1960s, she began creating large-scale narrative quilts, using the traditional medium of quilting to explore issues of race, gender, and identity. These quilts combined visual imagery with written text, offering a rich and layered commentary on the social and political landscape of the time.

Faith Ringgold: American Story. Courtesy of Fine Arts Museums of San Fransisco

In works like “Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima?” (1983), Ringgold challenged the stereotype of the “mammy” figure in American culture, depicting Aunt Jemima as a fierce and powerful figure who refuses to be oppressed. This work, which combines painting and quilt-making, is a prime example of Ringgold’s ability to merge disparate media and techniques into a cohesive whole, creating works that are both visually striking and intellectually challenging.

In the 1970s, Ringgold became increasingly interested in performance art, collaborating with other artists and musicians to create elaborate spectacles that combined music, dance, and political commentary. Her most famous work in this vein is “The Flag is Bleeding” (1967), a performance in which Ringgold and other performers lay on the floor with the American flag draped over them, symbolizing the violence and oppression that the flag represented to many in the African American community.

Ringgold’s work has been recognized both nationally and internationally, with exhibitions at major museums and galleries around the world. In 2017, the Serpentine Galleries in London mounted a retrospective of her work, titled “We Wanted a Revolution,” which examined the intersection of art and politics in Ringgold’s work.

Ringgold’s legacy as a Black women and artist is one of artistic excellence and political engagement, demonstrating the power of art to challenge and transform social and political norms. Her work remains as relevant today as it was when she first began creating it, offering a potent reminder of the ongoing struggle for racial justice and equality in America.

To learn more about Faith Ringgold’s work visit: