Soul Pictures: Black Feminist Generations

This blog is composed of images and writings related to the life and work of Faith Ringgold, her mother Mme. Willi Posey, and her daughters Michele and Barbara Wallace. There are pages with links to blogs composed of the materials arranged by decades. The blog, itself, will ultimately be composed of materials related to the life of the family in the 90s and the 21st century.


The Mona Lisa Interview Part II: Illustrations and Footnotes

American Collection 7: Cottonfields, Blackbirds, Sunflowers and Quilting Bees
American Collection 5: Bessie's Blues
American Collection 4: Jo Baker's Bananas
American Collection 1: We Came to America

The American Collection #2: A Family Portrait

The American Collection #3: Born in a Cottonfield

American Collection #9

American Collection 10: Wanted Douglass, Tubman and Truth

American Collection #6: The Flag is Bleeding #2

American Collection #12: A Picnic on the Grass Alone

The Mona Lisa Interview: Illustrations and Footnotes

French Collection 11: Cafe des Artistes
The French Collection 4: Quilting Bee at Arles

The French Collection 5: Matisse's Model
French Collection 1: Dancing at the Louvre 1991

The French Collection 2: Wedding on the Seine

The French Collection 3: Picnic at Giverny

The French Collection 7: Picasso's Studio

The French Collection 8: On The Beach at St. Tropez

French Collection 6: Matisse's Chapel

French Collection 9: Dinner at Gertrude Stein's

French Collection 10: Jo Baker's Birthday


Critical Essay: American People: Die (1967) by Faith Ringgold

American People #20: Die by Faith Ringgold copyright Faith Ringgold.

 This was a discussion of Die I posted on my blog Soul Pictures: Black Feminist Generations in 2009 when Die was exhibited at the Art Galleries of Ontario.  There was talk then of them buying the painting, which makes it all the more wonderful that The Museum of Modern Art finally has, and is already showing it prominently as part of their collection from the 1960s.

Two really wonderful articles help to provide background for this extraordinary accomplishment, the first of these is in Art News today:

The second of these is by Anne Monahan and appears in NKA and is called "Faith RInggold's Die: The Riot and Its Reception. (See subsequent post).

My words concerning the Ontario exhibition and other master works of the American People Series are as follows. Including references to American People #18 and #19--The Flag is Bleeding and U.S. Postage Stamp Commemorating the Advent of Black Power, also dating from 1967.

Faith's mural Die is featured in an exhibition at the Art Galleries of Ontario, which has a post on the web at
I remember very clearly and very distinctly when Faith painted this diptych oil on canvas somewhat imaginative depiction of the "race riots" that had begun to plague the United States landscape every summer like clockwork.  I was fifteen and had just returned from a summer in Europe with my grandmother (MJ) and my sister Barbara.  I came home to find mother hard at work still on two of her three murals for her first one man show at the Spectrum Gallery scheduled for the fall.  

These riots were almost always in what we then called "black ghettos," and most participants were either black people who lived in the community, or white officers policing the black community, or white press attempting (usually unsuccessfully) to report on the action.  Faith's Die (1967) has grown even more fascinating to me over the years because I am more struck by the tension between her depiction, which portrays both whites and blacks bleeding and fleeing, males and females engaged in a free-for-all reminiscent of Picasso's Gernica (which we had been to visit so many times at the Museum of Modern Art when I was a child) whereas the actual riots were largely black men breaking into stores, battling the police who had guns with rocks or other objects, chaotic affairs.   

So the battle Faith's mural portrays is a conceptual one, revealing the undercurrents of what was really at stake in the riots of the 60s, which was black against white conflict mostly in urban cities.  Blacks (mostly males I believe) were registering their dissatisfaction with the restrictions of ghetto life, the lack of genuine opportunities for advancement and prosperity, and their realization that despite the absense of the obvious signs of Jim Crow segregation and restriction in the cities, the white power structure was still pulling the strings and keeping them in check. 

From this point on (in the late 60s), by the way, the numbers of black males incarcerated begun to increase exponentially even as other kinds of opportunities began to open up for black men who were educated and had bourgeois aspirations.  Up until today where we find ourselves with a black president, a black secretary of state, a black governor of New York, and it was a white Governor Rockefeller who caused the massacre at Attica and engineered the discriminatory incarceration practices (see my first book Black Macho [1979], which was all about Black Power, as well as subsequent editions and publications).

Aside from Die, there was also The Flag is Bleeding, which was entirely finished I believe, and U.S. Postage Stamp Commemorating the Advent of Black Power, which immediately became my favorite painting in the world. I was only fifteen so my thinking about it wasn't particularly deep. It was for the simple reason that it included 100 faces in a grid of ten faces by ten faces, with ten black faces in diagonal order representing their status as 10% of the population of the United States and all the rest of the faces were white.

What really held my attention as she painted this painting was the idea, which she shared with me, that the trick of it would be to make each of the faces somewhat distinct from every other and yet obviously more alike than different apart from the difference of skin color. This notion of difference was enthralling to me. Even more enthralling was that every day when I got up and looked at the painting, I would notice that one or more of the faces would have changed owing to the manner in which Faith was building up layer upon layer of paint in construction of these images. Each and every face was entirely different from every other ever so slightly but how? I would scan the surface looking for the slight differences of appearance, and how it was that I knew one face from the other.  I never grew tired of this exercise.

These many years later, I have learned of the fascinating work psychologists have done on the human memory for faces as well as the scientific verification we now have that each and every face, with its complex structure of muscles and tendons and emotions, is completely unique and goes much deeper than differences of skin tone or hair texture or gender. It is possible to have a stroke and have one's memory for faces knocked out, leaving other kinds of memory intact. Apparently the loss of the ability to distinguish one face from another and to recognize familiar faces is devastating.

The 60s were a complicated period about which there is a great deal more to say.  It is great to see that museums in Canada are taking on the political art of the 60s since our own museums in the United States have been largely unwilling to come to terms with the masterpieces of American political art of the 60s.  Of course, a lot of that art would be African American.  Could that have something to do with their reluctance?  I hope not.


Michele in the 60s and the Early 70s

161-2-050270001rc400-12-0118721305-37-013171001R312-26-021671001R Poppy Johnson371-16-092371001R  AWC-Attica protest at MOMA371-14-092371001R Yvonne Rainer, Alice Neel -- AWC-Attica protest at MOMA
371-13-092371001R  AWC-Attica protest at MOMA371-10-092371001R  AWC-Attica protest at MOMA374-16-092371001R  AWC-Attica protest at MOMA374-14-092371001R  AWC-Attica protest at MOMA414-24-020472 Judson 3 Lottery Benefit for NYCLU at Leo Castelli Gallery--Kate Millett & Jon Hendricks415-25-020472 Judson 3 Lottery Benefit for NYCLU at Leo Castelli Gallery
Michele in the 60s, a gallery on Flickr.

I just wanted to pull together the images I could find of myself as part of Jan Van Raay's magnum opus on 60s and 70s protest in the art world and elsewhere. I was 19 in 1971. And I have very few pictures of myself at this age, and even fewer of me engaged in this very important moment in my life when atttendance at protest marches was an every day occurence for me. It was indeed my idea of a social life.

312-26-021671001R Poppy Johnson
371-16-092371001R AWC-Attica protest at MOMA
371-14-092371001R Yvonne Rainer, Alice Neel -- AWC-Attica protest at MOMA
371-13-092371001R AWC-Attica protest at MOMA
371-10-092371001R AWC-Attica protest at MOMA
374-16-092371001R AWC-Attica protest at MOMA
374-14-092371001R AWC-Attica protest at MOMA
414-24-020472 Judson 3 Lottery Benefit for NYCLU at Leo Castelli Gallery--Kate Millett & Jon Hendricks
415-25-020472 Judson 3 Lottery Benefit for NYCLU at Leo Castelli Gallery

"You sound like you're for sale"--Excerpt from WE FLEW OVER THE BRIDGE: The Memoirs of Faith Ringgold

In this excerpt from Faith's memoirs, she discusses the issue of interracial dating that was often perceived as problematic among black female students on predominantly white college campuses during the 1970s where she lectured or taught (231-232 in the Duke University Press 2005 edition.

 "Despite the positive experiences of the students in my class, there was cause for deep concern over the plight of the black women students. A group of them approached me one evening after class and asked me to speak to their black student organization about a most serious problem--the brothers and their white girlfriends.

Wagner College was a conservative white middle-class private Lutheran College perched on top of a hill in one of the most affluent sections of Staten island. Tehre were only thirty-five or forthy black students were part of Wagner's minority program to bring black and "disadvantaged" white students from poor sections of Staten Island into an otherwise affluent all-white campus. Many of the middle-class white students were from the suburbs of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  They were new to black people and black/white dating, and some were eager to get started.

I had thought the young black men and women on campus were surprisingly close and obviously committed to the cause of black unity.  Like a family they ate breakfast and supper together at a nest of tables in the cafeteria, but rarely saw one another otherwise.  Too often, sisters noticed brothers had just announced that they were "off to study."  The black women students complained that the brothers would not make social commitments to them for weekends and holidays for fear it would conflict with their ongoing relationships with white girlfriends on campus.

My role was to confront the brothers with this story so that the sisters could open up a dialogue and try to clear up a bad situation before it got worse.  On the night of the meeting, I came in with the black women students, sat down and was introduced.  "Faith Ringgold, our new and very together instructor of black art . . . . If you're not already signed up to take her courses, make sure you do it next semester . . . all the black students should."  Finally I had the floor. The men students were seated across the room and the women students were seated around me. I decided to start by rambling on enthusiastically about how I had become aware of their black student organization, and that many of the brothers and sisters present were responsible for the administration's increased commitment to black students on campus, and to outreach programs of relevance to the surrounding black community.  I went on to mention that the sisters, who ahd been arrested and gone to jail in support of the black male leadership, were being rejected for white women.

Nobody spoke, so I continue. "These sisters want to know where your white girlfriends were when you needed support to take over the building.  And why didn't they go to jail with you?"  The brothers looked sheepishly at one another.  They recognized that this was a family dispute potentially volatile but not terminal.  They had to proceed with caution to make sure that nobody gave any gorund or made any promises he couldn't keep.  "They have money and they can afford to give us some of the things we need," came a voice from the brothers' corner.  The other young men made a protective circle around the speaker. He was a very tall, good-looking young man who wore a school sweater and was probably a freshman on the basketball team.  They all knew him. "Are you for sale?" yelled out a sister, who had stopped braiding her hair and stood facing the brothers' side of the room. (Half of her hair was standing straight up with the Afro comb sticking up in the part, separating that hair from the fresh cornrows already done. She was obviously preparing for bed.  Tomorrow her combed-out Afro would be full with tiny crimps.)  "You sound like you are for sale," she repeated, now focusing on the young man in the circle. "Like you're hungry and you think these white people gonna feed you for nothing."

"Uummmh, Ummmh," testified the other young women in the way that black women speak, their voices trapped down deep in their throats as if to disguise where the sound was coming from.

This sister reminded me of a young woman from the University of Milwaukee, who told me that her boyfriend was dating white on campus.  When she finally confronted him, he told her, "Well, she gives me money."

"Money?" quipped the young woman. "You want money?"  Why don't you go with the white man? He's the one who's got all the money."

It was time for the brothers to speak, to say something -- anything to get off the hook. Another brother spoke up this time; he was much shorter than the basketball player and slight of build.  The minute he rose to speak, the young women went back to their throat-talking chorus of "Uummmh, Ummmh," as if they already knew what he was going to say.  He faced the brothers and spoke directly to them. "You know, it's hard out there, and they're attracted to us.  What's wrong with it as long as it's on our terms?" The rest of the brothers gave in to embarrassed laughter as they engaged in a slapping of hands. They had made their point: This was the sisters' problem not theirs.

It was my time to speak again.  "And what about the sisters?" I asked, facing the brothers in their victory circle.  "Can they go out with whomever they want on campus?"

"Sisters better not be seen on campus with no white dudes," said the little guy who had spoken earlier.  He was obviously speaking for the brothers. The sisters weren't talking, but their silence was convincing.  They would be faithful no matter what--at least that's what they wanted the brothers to think. "


Words in Preparation for a Conversation with the University of African Art

Words in Prep for Conversation with University of African Art
By Michele Wallace

Slave Rape Series: 2 or 3, "Run, You Might Save Your Life" by Faith Ringgold. WC T22 1972. Tanka by Mme. Willi Posey, Faith's Mother. Portrait of Faith's Daughter, Michele Wallace.

In order to read the following, you need to join the University of African Art Facebook Page (which is an open group) and then read the conversation which subsequently took place today, and which continues:

    In an attempt to overwhelm my natural inclination to reticence and introversion, to regard any and all encounters with “the public,”  no matter how modest the form, or its pretenses of spontaneity and unpreparedness (such as in the format of a “panel” or “an interview” or a “conversation”), as something to pass through with eyes firmly closed, hoping to cause as little inconvenience to my listeners and myself, I am preparing an initial statement going into tomorrow’s interview with African artist Mojo Okediji and the University of African Art Facebook Page.  The reason to take this unusual precaution is, in a word, because of the technology. I am 61 years old and as such formed by a world in which the current technological advances in communications were unimaginable.

Yesterday I had an experience with an interview for The Feminist Wire, an online journal which really took me utterly by surprise for the simple reason that I failed to take into account the way the world has changed.  When Tamara Lomax said she wanted to interview me for the Feminist Wire, and we made an appointment to talk on the telephone, I can hardly believe how na├»ve my assumptions were. I immediately assumed that what would happen was that she would tape the interview, transcribe it, edit the transcription and send it to me for revision and approval in what I now realize is a totally antiquated and perhaps obsolete way of doing things.  Rather what Lomax was expecting was that I would do an interview on camera, which she would then edit after the fact for posting on her publication’s page.  Forewarned is forearmed.

This experience made me think more deeply about what I was getting ready to do with this discussion with Moyo Okediji for the Museum of African Art on Facebook. I had already had the chance to review at least two of these discussions and I just love the format although it seemed to me that the more familiar you might be with the work of the subject of the interview, the more you can enjoy what is occurring.  Perhaps it is overly optimistic to think I can do anything about this since the only way to become familiar with my work and its range would be to have read it, and reading, not to mention the process of acquiring the necessary materials, takes time. I am not sure how much the click of a mouse will render at a moment’s notice. I still think of my ideas as bes tgarnered from the pages of books.  I would very much like my work to be available via kindle, since I am increasingly a fan of kindle reading myself, but I don’t believe it is.

Much less, I hate even more to consider the boundaries of various languages and oceans, which inevitably divide those of us of the African Diaspora, but during my recent trip to Paris and my presentation on the Self-Portraits of Faith Ringgold at the recent Black Portraitures Conference in Paris, I had to admit that the French world has become completely alien to me since my visits there as a child, and I and my clan alien to them it seems.  Is it possible that she was largely unknown there thanks to a lack of translations of her many children's books and monographs? I know I was. So it seems to me foolish now to take anything for granted.

I am shy about my ideas. I don’t crave a huge audience.  Huge audiences precipitate huge misunderstandings in my experience, the kinds of misunderstandings I would prefer to avoid. 

My career as someone of considerable renown begun with one such massive misunderstanding: the publication of my first book, Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman.  About this I could say and have already said a great deal.  But for me at the time, at the age of 27, the fame the book garnered was simply a means to an end. Without fame, I wouldn’t be able to publish and since I was then determined to make my living as a writer, fame seemed to me the only possible goal.  Little did I then realize that people who become famous are always famous for something in particular and, as was entirely true in this case, the devil was in the details. 

Blessedly that stage of my life is long passed and I have since become a writer and an intellectual by my own design and more to my own liking and specifications.  Not that I am denying or renouncing the achievement of writing Black Macho. I merely wish to point out that my goals since then have been considerably refined.

I continue to be a black feminist and to be proud of the fact that I was a foremother of the movement that has resulted in a widespread embrace of feminist ideas and goals among women of color all over the world. I am proud and hopeful that such standards as I embrace of the right to education, liberty, sexual freedom and mobility will one day be the legacy and the birthright of girls and women all over the world.  As long as this is not yet the case, I will continue to call myself a feminist and to be willing to fight and die for the freedom of the most subaltern of us.

However, my focus these days as an intellectual has become,of necessity, quite narrow on the theory that the way to get something accomplished in the precious time I have left on the planet, is to focus precisely on the achievable.  Actually I don’t really know if my goals are achievable but they are precise. 

Right now they are simply to enhance the understanding of my audience of the importance of the world of black visual culture, as I currently conceive it.  My current writing projects are focused on these matters. First of these is a book, a collection of essays about my mother, the artist Faith Ringgold, detailing my own relationship and understanding of her work as an artist from the 1960s when I was, myself a girl, through the first decade of the 21st century. 

The second goal is a larger one of writing a book on the broader topic of Black Visual Culture in general.  The book (or books) will follow the topic as I conceived it in a series of courses I taught this spring at the City College of New York and the CUNY Graduate Center, with segments on Fine Art, Photography and Cinema. 

To touch upon all three equally in the course of a single semester was extremely challenging, in fact impossible but it was deeply enjoyable.  Indeed, whatever I teach these days in my capacity as a Professor of English, I increasingly incorporate visual materials—fine art, photography and film—wherever I find it relevant and capable of enlivening our readings. 

In my youth and for most of my life I have been equally attracted and repulsed by the field of Art History.  On the one hand, I love visual art, love looking at it and contemplating it.  On the other hand, it has been difficult not to become outraged by the way in which it has been taught for most of my life as though the subject and/or artist of African descent did not and could not possibly exist.  Having given up on that fight, I did my Cinema Studies, under the impression at the time that this field would be more pliable to my quest for diversity in representation. Of course, I was entirely wrong about that.  When it comes to the upper echelons of the production of knowledge in the West, there really is no such thing as diversity still.  The African subject, perhaps in particular the African female subject is still a question mark and a problem.

Nonetheless, I continue to venture there. So this is my project these days and I tackle it in various ways severely restricted by the economic realities of my life, which is that I make my living by teaching at a university where the teaching load is three courses per semester and classes are quite large. This means that for at least nine months of the year I am totally engrossed in the lives and the education of my flock. For the other three months, when I am not engaged in my mother’s hectic professional schedule, I attempt to produce whatever writing I can, which is not nearly as much as I would like.  The way I think is by writing and I would like to be doing it all the time. Alas, this isn’t possible. And even if it were, I am not entirely sure who might read what I wrote beside myself.  The world is changing very fast, and in the process who reads what is changing as well.

One final thing—before we begin—is to suggest a link between the start of my writing career in my early days as a black feminist to my present preoccupation with the formulation of black visual sphere.  It is this. Black Macho and the Myth ofthe Superwoman was written to acknowledge and codify the birth of a different manner of black female subject already in evidence in the reading world of the early 1970s in the form of the writings of such black women writers and thinkers as Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Toni CadeBambara, Lucille Clifton, June Jordan Audre Lorde, Gwendolyn Brooks, MayaAngelou, Sherley Anne Williams and a host of others, each of whom spoke in an utterly unique voice and held diverse opinions on the feasibility of black feminism but all of whom understood and addressed themselves to the problem of the hyper-visibility of the black female subject.  My present work involves taking literally the problem of the hyper-visibility of the black female subject.   What I would like to suggest is that what we see and how we see it is, itself, worthy of our attention.

Slave Rape Series: 2 or 3, "Run, You Might Save Your Life" by Faith Ringgold. WC T22 1972. Tanka by Mme. Willi Posey, Faith's Mother. Portrait of Faith's Daughter, Michele Wallace.


Change Video 2--Rehearsal

Rehearsal video of Change Performance: 100 Pounds Weight Loss, 1988 with Joan Ashley on Drums. From Michele Wallace YouTube Channel.

Change Video 1

Family Scene from Change Video by Faith Ringgold, 1988. With Michele Wallace, Faith Wallace Gadsden, Teddy Wallace Orr and Burdette Ringggold.


Critical Essays: Anyone Can Fly Foundation

If you would like to see an article I wrote on the mission of the Anyone Can Fly Foundation started by Faith Ringgold in order to perpetuate the knowledge and legacy of African American visual artists, it can be found with some difficulty by the following route. 

Click on the link that follows, whereupon you will gain access to a pdf of the entire book "The Visual Artist's Guide to Estate Planning: The 2008 Supplement Update" edited by Faith's lawyer Barbara Hoffman, which is full of fascinating information about artists' foundations generally.  Black artists generally don't have foundations, at least part of the point in Faith's determination to have one.  Her view is that having a foundation (or some form of non-profit organization) is essential to the preservation of the artist's work beyond his or her lifetime.  

Within this manuscript pdf, the 7th chapter is composed of an essay written by myself (Michele Wallace) about Faith's Foundation, which is now in its 12th year of operation. 

Many of the programs have changed since then and it is time for a new essay on this topic, although it is difficult to figure out what can really be shared. 

The Foundation has turned out to be such a personal and intimate thing, particularly since all of the work is done on a volunteer basis and operations are minimally funded directly by Faith Ringgold out of a bank account she maintains for that purpose.

The highlight of the foundation year is its annual garden party in Faith's garden at her home on Jones Road in Englewood, New Jersey, in which Faith welcomes paying guests for the benefit of the continuation of the work of the foundation. 

A relatively new feature of the foundation is the awarding of a Lifetime Achievement Award.  Previous winners have been David Driskell, Questa Benberry, Elizabeth Catlett, Samella Lewis, Margaret Burroughs, Aminah Robinson and Sam Gilliam.  The idea of the award, itself, was inspired by print making master Bob Blackburn who died before its conception.

This year the awardee is Camille Billops, artist, print maker, ceramicist, filmmaker and archivist. 

Her work as an archivist and a guardian angel (along with her husband) of African American artists in a wide array of fields is of interest in regard to the granting of this award as Faith has recently expressed her desire that the ACFF Lifetime Achievement Award should go to artists who have done their own work but also made a contribution to the lives of other artists.

A detailed description of Camille  and her (Jim Hatch) husband's Hatch-Billops Collection can be found online at Emory University Libraries (the institution which will ultimately provide a permanent home for the collection):

By Michele Wallace"
in The Visual Artist's Guide to Estate Planning: The 2008 Supplement Update sponsored by  T. the Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation and the Judith Rothchild Foundation edited by Barbara T. Hoffman.


Photo-Essay: Change: The 80s

The first half of the 80s:  when the challenge to change, particularly her weight begins--myriad performances and costumes: Faith and Burdette attending Barbara's graduation (abd in Theoretical Linquistics at the CUNY Graduate Center in 1981; Faith with her new granddaughter Faith Wallace Gadsden (now 30 years old, a Ph.D. candidate in Micro-Biology at the Tufts School of Medicine in Boston and a Board Member of her grandmother's Anyone Can Fly Foundation); a sculpture from the Women on a Pedestal Series.

After the weight begins to comes off in 1986

The two Faiths and Burdette on the Roof at 345 West 14th Street in 1986. Photographer C. Love

Honorary Doctorate Robes by Photographer C. Love. San Diego, California.

Photo-Essay: Change: The 1960s

Faith in various photos of her body throughout the 1960s as she continues to gain weight while married to Burdette.

Photo-Essay: Change Sets 30s

These images composes the first set showing Faith as a child from 1930 through 1939.  These photos are mostly by D'Laigle, Sr.  The images in bathing costumes were all taken in Atlantic City where they spent all of their summers.  Almost all of the pictures show Faith, who was the youngest with her older sister Barbara and brother Andrew. This was a preparatory composition slightly different from the way they were used in the final Change: 100 Pound Weight Loss Quilt.

Friends of Soul Pictures


Post Archive

Michele Wallace: Talking in Pictures

Michele Wallace: Talking in Pictures
Barbara, MJ, Michele and Mom in the background in sunglasses at a fashion show in the early 60s