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.

Friday

Diminution of Faith Ringgld's Die Corrected by PAMM and The Gallerist

Faith Ringgold's Die and Duane Hanson, the 1960s. Photo by Daniel Azoulay, courtesy of the Perez Art Museum of Miami where this work is currently on display.


There was before a bootleg image in The Gallerist http://galleristny.com/2013/12/not-just-for-snowbirds-forget-the-beach-miamis-hometown-museum-is-heating-up/ of this work, but with half of Die missing. Now the Gallerist has made the correction in their article thanks to the intervention of the staff of the Perez Museum where the work is on display. Which leaves me only with the question of why there hasn't been more media attention given to this extraordinary juxtaposition of 1960s art ordinarily considered so uncharacteristic of contemporary American art.  This work is political, in your face, and worthy of our reconsideration--as opposed to the bubble gum version of American art (I like a lot of it but not if it is the only kind I can see or talk about!).  Apparently both pieces come to be shown at the Perez thanks to ACA Galleries.  I apologize in advance that this picture, which is legit, isn't anywhere as sharp as the previous image. Hop down to Miami and see it in person for yourself. That's what I would do if I could.

Sunday

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.

161-2-050270001rc
400-12-0118721
305-37-013171001R
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.
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0822335646/ref=rdr_ext_tmb


 "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. "

Monday


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 Ph.D.in 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.

Thursday

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.

Monday

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):

http://findingaids.library.emory.edu/documents/billopshatch927/


http://sharpeartfdn.qwestoffice.net/supplement/supplement08.htm

"Chapter 7: THE ANYONE CAN FLY FOUNDATION: THE LIFE, CAREER, AND
MISSION OF FAITH RINGGOLD—AFRICAN AMERICAN ARTIST, FEMINIST
WRITER, AND CHILDREN’S BOOK ILLUSTRATOR, PAR EXCELLENCE
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.

Sunday

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 modelling, getting married, traveling to Europe in the 1960s

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.

Monday

Critical Essay: Declaration of Freedom and Independence: The Invisible Story




This essay was written by me in conjunction with the 50 Year Retrospective exhibition of Faith's work at Rutger's University, and published in the catalogue.







Your country? How came it yours? Before the Pilgrims landed we were here. Here we have brought our three gifts and mingled them with yours: a gift of story and song—soft, stirring melody in an ill-harmonized and unmelodious land; the gift of sweat and brawn to beat back the wilderness, conquer the soil and lay the foundations of this vast economic empire two hundred years earlier than your weak hands could have done it; the third, a gift of the Spirit.


W.E.B. Dubois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)



Primitive is a word I use in a positive way to explain the completeness of a concept in art. I like to layer and pattern and embellish my art in the manner of tribal art, and then, like a blues singer, I like to repeat and repeat it again. Fragmented, understated, or minimalist art forms frustrate me. I want to finish them. In the 1960s there was a minimalist aesthetic advocating “less is more.” To me, less is even less and more is still not quite enough. I was now using feathers and beads as never before.


I had been to the African source of my own “classical” art forms and now I was set free.

Faith Ringgold, We Flew Over The Bridge (1995)


In W.E.B. Dubois’ beautiful words on the cultural legacy of African Americans, which were written relatively early in a lifetime of struggle to uplift the race, one hears succinctly put the counter-claims of the African American experience in active contradiction with the utopian rhetoric of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. No, Dubois, seems to say, none of you who would call it your country have a claim that proceeds or outweighs the claim of the descendants of the slaves. It was the slaves, the kidnapped Africans who were here from the time of Jamestown in 1619 tilling the soil, contributing their flesh and sinew and ingenuity to build up this beautiful country, those 13 colonies, that the Founding Fathers would declare independent of the British crown.

It was the former slaves who would supplement the military forces of the colonies in the hopes of earning their freedom in a new nation. And for some time immediately after the Revolution, it seemed in some quarters as though slavery’s day was done. It was in this context that the Northern and Southern colonies struck the pact that would give slaveholders three-fifths of a vote for each of their slaves in the subsequent writing of the Constitution, helping to make their weight in national legislative bodies roughly equivalent to the non-slaveholders until the balance of power could not be maintained one minute more and the country itself faced a great Civil War.

Ironically, neither Dubois nor anyone else gave much thought to the potential for visual productivity among the slaves or even for the role of visual art in the lives of African Americans generally. When Dubois lists the African American contributions to the building of the land, the houses, the fences, the gardens and estates that the slaves made possible are considered unworthy of a mention. It follows then that it should be no surprise but when we turn to look for illustrations of the issues of race and gender in connection with the Declaration of Independence, we find precious little worthy of our respect and consideration. We find very little that can help enlighten us on the relationship of the Founders to their many slaves, and the future of those slaves. The women of any color were not even a thought.


Therefore when Faith turned last summer to the project of illustrating the Declaration of Independence, I took upon myself the task of finding what did exist among the images Americans invoke in celebration of the birth of the United States of America. I could find no visual images created specifically by African Americans in the 18th century at all bearing upon the rhetoric of the Declaration. Of the objects or images produced at the time of the American Revolution, I found some black artists: Joshua Johnston, the portrait painter who painted both blacks and whites, the slave potter from North Carolina known as Dave, the etchings by Scipio Moorhead (1773), among them one of the slave poet Phyllis Wheatley, the silhouettes of Moses Williams, who was a slave of Samuel Copley, the artist, including a silhouette of himself (in Portraits of a People: Picturing African Americans in the Nineteenth Century by Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, Addison Gallery of American Art 2006).


With little in the way of precedents, Faith nonetheless devised six original images, each one double-sided with an image taken from the struggle of the American Revolution paired with an image relevant to the African American struggle for freedom and justice which continued for another two hundred and fifty years after the Revolution. First she made paintings of them as the basis for a series of lithographs with the help of her favorite Master Printer Curlee Holton, with whom she had collaborated on the prints included in The Jones Road Series and in the limited edition of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, Letters from a Birmingham Jail (2007).

From the outset Faith knew she wanted to emphasize African slavery since we know that slavery was a vital aspect of the colonies and would remain crucial to the productivity of the new nation. But her biggest challenge turned out to be not representing the plight of African Americans in relation to the Declaration, but rather the plight of women.




It is no secret to anybody who knows me that I love to watch films and I love to read books. There are a lot of great books about slavery, and the books that consider the issues of the 18th century and the Enlightenment in relation to slavery form a distinct category in the field of American History. In the past two decades since the unearthing of the colonial slave burial grounds in lower Manhattan, our picture of the lives of slaves and the role slavery played in the colonies, particularly in the North, has been irrevocably altered and enhanced. (This material resulted in among other works the epic New York Historical Society’s Slavery in New York edited by Ira Berlin and Leslie M. Harris, The New Press 2005).


Whereas when I was a graduate student in American Studies at Yale University briefly in the early 80s and studied the history of slavery and abolitionism there, the colonial period was interesting yet still sketchy in terms of readily available secondary sources, now the secondary sources are both provocative and fascinating with work on the slave trade, itself, on the piracy on the high seas that resulted from it, on the development of abolitionism and African Diasporic contributions to the movement to end slavery, as well as such special works as Annette Gordon Reed’s Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, University of Virginia 1997, in which we learn about the fascinating connection between a family of slaves and the family of the most prominent of Founding Fathers.


I drew upon my background readings in the field to advise my Mom, such as most significantly the incomparable Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (Oxford UP 2006) by my former teacher at Yale, arguably the most distinguished historian of abolitionism in the world today—Professor David Brion Davis. But Faith would insist upon visual sources, regardless the arguments I might make for the supremacy of concepts and ideas, and for the visual we turned together to the recent documentary work in the field. The best of these were the following:


Slavery and the Making of America Series produced by Thirteen/WNET New York 2004, Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery Series produced by WGBH Boston 2006 and The Middle Passage produced by HBO 2003. But with precious few antecedent illustrations, paintings and sculpture to draw upon, no photographs and little in the way of a visual imagination, the palette of these documents remained largely monochromatic. Their artistic strengths lay largely in their use of music, in particular Slavery and The Making of America for which the celebrated African American musician Bernice Johnson Reagon wrote the score and performed much of the music, some of it with the help of her multi-talented daughter Toshi Reagon. I acquired as well the extended cds Reagon wrote and produced to accompany the production. Since the world of the slaves she is creating is as much a mystery in its musical composition as it is in its visual composition, Reagon uses her considerable knowledge of the history of African American music in the 19th and 20th century to reconstruct the music the slaves of the 18th century might have made, or might have understood if they had heard it. In the process, Reagon produces one of the most beautiful compilations of music I have ever heard, which served as an inspiration, albeit in the abstract, to Faith’s wonderful work.




Faith was particularly struck by Reagon’s rendering into song, WEB Du Bois famous words on the founding of the American nation, “Your country? How came it yours? Before the Pilgrims landed we were here,” which he addressed to his white readers in The Souls of Black Folk (1903).

But perhaps my fondest memory of our whole interaction during her completion of the project was viewing together the docu-drama of the life of John Adams produced by HBO that spring. From this riveting experience came Faith’s interest in the letters Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John Adams who was one of the signers of the Declaration. Sadly, this was as close as any woman in the 18th century got to having a verifiable impact on the contents of the Declaration.

In the second of her illustrations of the Declaration, Faith used a painted portrait image of Abigail Adams as her model, rendering it in black and white and juxtaposed it with a carte de visite photographic portrait of the 19th century black feminist orator Sojourner Truth. On these images Faith superimposed in turn the handwritten words by Abigail Adams in the 18th century concerning the rights of women and the words Truth spoke in her defense of the vote for women (which were not successful) at the conclusion of the Civil War.

Faith’s first image juxtaposes King George III against a background of the British Flag. He is walking on the heads of the American Colonists. King George III was the person to whom the Declaration of Independence was addressed. His response was extremely dismissive, which set off the American Revolution. Next to King George, Faith has set an image of a slave ship in which there is superimposed a diagrammatic portrayal of how the slaves were packed in the holds.

In the water are slaves either being dumped or jumping to their deaths, recalling most famously JW Turner's 19th century masterpiece “Slaveship.”

The third illustration "Absolute Tyranny" juxtaposes the portrayal of the Boston Massacre in which Crispus Attucks, an African American was the first to fall (a version of the images printed and circulated by Paul Revere) with a lynching scene in the American South.




The fourth illustration juxtaposes a rendition of The Boston Tea Party with an image taken from the famous photograph of the Civil Rights Confrontation on the Edmund Pettus Bridge some two hundred years later.




Illustration 5 juxtaposes an image of Benjamin Franklin pleading the case of the new nation before the British Crown after the American Revolution in 1776 with an image of Frederick Douglass addressing a hypothetical abolitionist meeting under the trees in the period after his escape from slavery in the 1830s.


Wherever the slave ships traveled on the high seas, there was an ongoing blood bath of contending forces. There was no justice. There was no peace.





Faith’s final image juxtaposes Thomas Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence at his entirely slave-built estate in Montecello, Virginia with Martin Luther King writing Letter from a Birmingham Jail in his cell in 1963.

The Enlightenment was full of contradictions, including the Declaration of Independence which was arguably the first world historical document to result from Enlightenment ideas: equality yes but for rational, civilized human being, which as everyone knew included only white adult land-owning males. This was such an implicit assumption at the time of the writing of the Declaration, that these terms need not even be explicitly stated, leaving perhaps the loophole of the next two centuries which find us now with a President who descends from Africa and from America combined.

Of course, Thomas Jefferson, the most revered of our founding fathers and the author of the Declaration of Independence, thought that Africans were culturally inferior based upon some rather fanciful observations culled from existing readings of African cultures and his close observation of the African slaves he owned and carefully managed. His Montecello estate, where Faith pictures him quietly writing the Declaration, still stands today as a celebration of the beauty and careful design that he and his well trained and skillfully trained artisan slaves constructed. He kept his slaves and their families with him for life, if his finances didn’t interfere, and he also chose to have each of his slaves educated in a useful trade or craft contributing to the self-sufficiency of the beautiful Monticello. But they were still slaves, and even Sally Hemmings, whom it is widely thought bore him children, was sold to cover his debts when he died.

Thomas Jefferson was one of the masters of enlightenment thought, which has been remembered for its rationalism based upon observation, its banishment of confusing and useless emotionalism as well as religious intolerance. Yet Jefferson’s pristine intellect remained tainted by his own complicity in the horrifying ordeal of European and American cooperation in the slave trade in Africa. As such, his dream nation remains haunted by the psychological and historical traumatization of slavery's middle passage.

ENDIT

Sunday

Chronologies and Documents: Interview with Mme. Willi Posey


Michele Wallace interviews Willie Posey, her grandmother, in 1980 at her appartment in Harlem. Topics are her early life in Palatka, Florida, the death of her father, her move to Harlem, her relationship to her mother and siblings. She is 77 at the time of the interview and she resides in Harlem at the Lenox Terrace. A former fashion designer, she also collaborated extensively on the art of her daughter Faith RInggold


http://www.archive.org/details/InterviewWithWilliePoseyIn1980PartI

Thursday

Photo-Essay: Faith Ringgold: On The Necessity of Primitivism to the Blues Tradition

This is Faith describing how she made the superstructure for her mask of Aunt Edith. Barbara Wallace, my sister took this picture at her talk at Rutger's.

This image links to more photos of the masks Faith Ringgold made with her mother's help before either of them had been to Africa (early 70s I think). I think Momma Jones (Willi Posey) may have gone to Africa first. Both were always intrepid travelers.

Faith has done a great deal of soft sculpture and masks in the course of her 50 year career as an artist. This work is well documented in the writings of art historian Lisa Farrington and in Dancing at the Louvre edited by Dan Cameron (University of California Press 1990) and others, but not necessarily widely seen otherwise. This soft sculptural work, which can be seen now at ACA Gallery in Chelsea, will be featured in exhibitions coming up this year and next year at ACA, Rutger's University and other venues.

Photo copyright Faith Ringgold and photo by Barbara Wallace at ACA GAlleries.

All of which I mention in order to provide the necessary background for understanding this quote from Faith's autobiography, which seems particularly appropriate to the topic of Blues People:
I came back from Africa with ideas for a new mask face, more primitive than any I had ever done before. Primitive is a word I use in a positive way to explain the completeness of a concept in art. I like to layer and pattern and embellish my art in the manner of tribal art, and then, like a blues singer, I like to repeat and repeat it again. Fragmented, understated, or minimalist art forms frustrate me. I want to finish them. In the 1960s there was a minimalist aesthetic advocating "less is more." To me, less is even less and more is still not quite enough. I was now using feathers and beads as never before. I had been to the African source of my own "classical" art forms and now I was set free.

Quotation from WE FLEW OVER THE BRIDGE by Faith Ringgold
Artist, Children's Author and mother of Michele Wallace, Your Teacher

Photo Collection: Anne Porter Modelling 1950s


Anne Porter Modelling 1950s, originally uploaded by olympia2x.
This image is part of a set of photographs of Anne Porter at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mjsoulpictures/sets/72157623624153679/show/

Photo Collection: Anne Porter & Yvonne Mullings Modelling in the 50s


Anne Porter Modelling 1950s, originally uploaded by olympia2x.
These were two of my grandmother's models, her particular favorites. They are wearing dresses designed by Mme. Willi Posey in the 1950s, maybe mid-50s. I love the contrast in their height. They were both such lovely sweet women. Verna Photographers. Brooklyn 10017.

Friday

Photo-Essay: Change Sets Forties


Change Set--The 40s, originally uploaded by olympia2x. Detail from Change Quilt by Faith Ringgold. Copyright exclusively by Faith Ringgold. http://www.faithringgold.com.

The 40s Change Set is composed of photographs including Faith in each year of the decade, to show her body but there are many other narratives besides.  Faith used photo etchings then printed on clothe, then quilted as the Change: 100 Pound Weight Loss Story Quilt (1986).
In final version above included photo of Earl and Faith as boyfriend and girlfriend 1946 on Edgecombe Avenue. Slight rearrangement from originals below. 

Photos mostly by D'Laigle.  Atlantic City Photographer Unknown:

1.  Faith with her mother and Barbara's husband Jo Jo in 1949 (19) after church on Easter Sunday.
2.  Faith in 1947 (17) 
3.  Faith with her cousins--Frieda and Jimmy 1940s (not sure of year). My guess 1948 (18)
4.  No Date Given but I think this is 1946 when Faith was 16. Photo part of Set by D'Laigle Sr.
5. Faith on boardwalk in Atlantic City/6 & 8. Faith on boardwalk with friends--same photographer. Same date (sometime in the 40s) 
7. High School Graduation Picture--Morris High School 1948 (18)
9. Barbara, Marie Reeves (dance teacher) and Faith at Dance Recital in 1940 (10).
10. Faith on day of graduation from high school 1948 (18) 
11. Barbara, Willi and Faith (1946)--Part of D'Laigle set also 4) 


Thursday

Photo-Essay: Change Sets 50s


Change Quilt 50s Photo Collage, originally uploaded by olympia2x.
This is the 50s as portrayed in the Change Quilt with photos by George Hopkins and H. D'Laigle Sr. One of seven photographic montages printed on clothe. All rights reserved (1986).


Aunt Barbara's Wedding and Faith Modeling
Faith having her babies Michele and Barbara, graduating from college
and continuing with the fashion shows.


Photo-Essay: Change: Soul Pictures 1940s through 1950s




“Change: Faith Ringgold’s Over 100 Pounds Weight Loss Story Quilt” January 1, 1986. 
All rights reserved. Faith Ringgold Archive.







Faith’s older sister: this is Barbara’s official portrait as she was graduating from Morris High School in 1943 at the age of 16. She had begun kindergarten at three because on the first day of school (1930), the principal felt sorry for my grandmother (later Mme. Willi Posey) who seemed to have four small children (although one of them was her sister’s daughter). Faith was then a new born. Copyright Faith Ringgold Photo Archive. All rights reserved.





Faith and Earl as teenagers on Edgecombe Avenue.
It was 1946. Faith was 16 and Earl was 19. He was a musician and attended college at the New School and Julliard from time to time. They say he was very smart. Copyright Faith Ringgold Photo Archive. All rights reserved.





Faith and her friends in the 40s on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. Strolling in what was largely a segregated town then. Faith says they looked forward to staying all summer and enjoying the race movies at the local cinema. Faith Ringgold Photo Archive. All rights reserved.




Faith’s high school graduation photo. Faith graduated from Morris High School in 1948 and begun studies in Art Education at the City College of New York at a time when girls were still not admitted to the school of liberal arts, and when black students were practically non-existent. Faith Ringgold Photo Archive. All rights reserved.





Barbara remained ahead of her cohort educationally until she graduated she completed college at NYU in Home Economics. This is the day of her graduation with her mother. Photo taken by Cardoza Posey, her mother’s older brother who had helped with the expense. Copyright Faith Ringgold Archive.





Aunt Barbara's Wedding Series:
Photographs by H. DeLaigle Sr.


Arriving at Aunt Barbara’s wedding: Mme. Willi Posey, Mrs. Brown, Barbara, Faith and Grandpa Andrew. Posey and he are no longer married. Divorced since 1946 (also featured on the cover of Dark Designs and Visual Culture, Duke University Press 2004). Faith Ringgold Photo Archive. All rights reserved.




Aunt Barbara and Groom after the wedding. Faith Ringgold Photo Archive. All rights reserved





Aunt Barbara's ladies in waiting including her younger sister Faith on her right in the large flowers. Faith is 19. Faith Ringgold Photo Archive. All rights reserved.




Wedding Party including Earl (my father) and Faith (my mother) months before they were married and two years before I was born. 1950 at 363 Edgecombe Avenue in Harlem. Faith Ringgold Photo Archive. All rights reserved.




Uncle Andrew, Faith and Barbara's older brother, dressed for Aunt Barbara’s wedding. Faith Ringgold Archive. All rights reserved.




Mme. Posey (Faith’s mother) and her friends Lottie Belle and tba at 363 Edgecombe Avenue for Aunt Barbara’s wedding. Faith Ringgold Photo Arhive. All rights reserved.




Mme. Willi Posey business card. Faith Ringgold Photo Archive. All Rights Reserved.




Mme. Willi Posey fashion pose in dress of her own design. Photos by Thomas Morrison at 363 Edgecombe Avenue in 1950. Faith Ringgold Archive. All rights reserved.







Aunt Barbara modeling coat made by Mme. Willi Posey in apartment at 363 Edgecombe Avenue in Harlem. All rights reserved. Faith Ringgold Archive.

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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