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.


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.

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