The Life and Legacy of Faith Ringgold

The late artist, children’s book author, and Civil Rights activist shaped the art world as we know it with her boundary-breaking body of work and advocacy of Black women artists.

In 2018, Faith Ringgold addressed a packed auditorium at the Brooklyn Museum for a conversation with her daughter, the art historian Michele Wallace. The address was timed to the landmark exhibition, “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.” After a standing ovation, a crowd of 300 took to their seats in breathless silence as the artist, children’s book author, and civil rights activist recounted a lifetime of achievement and changemaking against insurmountable odds. That late September day lept to the minds of each audience member and millions more on Saturday evening, when news broke that Ringgold had died at the age of 93.

There are a fortunate few among us who learned of the artist’s life and career not from the internet, but from Ringgold herself. Today, they will recall the tenderness with which she spoke of Robert Newman, the first gallerist to invite her to stage a solo exhibition in New York in 1966. It was during the summer leading up to that show that Ringgold created a body of work that would go on to become a cornerstone of the Civil Rights movement and the cultural ephemera that has survived it in the succeeding decades.

The American Collection #6: The Flag is Bleeding #2

There, among the conservatism of Midtown’s stiff-lipped gray suits, three of Ringgold’s works depicted the graphic tensions at the heart of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. That one went on to be exhibited at MoMA—one of the city’s landmark museums that Ringgold protested against for its legacy of sidelining Black women artists—is a testament to her larger-than-life impact. Even at the age of 87, Ringgold remained impassioned about art’s highest purpose. “There is a way,” she said that day in Brooklyn, “to understand people who neither look like you or have had your experience. And that way is through their visual art.” Through her visionary paintings, picture quilts, children’s books, and activism, she paved the way for countless future generations to shape the future with their own art.

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