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Remembering acclaimed artist and quilter Faith RinggoldExBulletin

Remembering acclaimed artist and quilter Faith RinggoldExBulletin

 


Ringgold, who died April 12, depicted themes of black life and culture through her quilts, paintings, dolls and books. His work has been exhibited in many major museums. Originally broadcast in 1991.



TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

It's FRESH AIR. Acclaimed artist Faith Ringgold depicted themes of black life and culture through her quilts, paintings, dolls, and children's books. Ringgold died Saturday at the age of 93. Her work was exhibited in numerous museums and she championed other black artists. Ringgold's work may be difficult to describe, but it is beautiful to look at. Her quilters sewed fabrics with bold patterns and vibrant colors. One of the fabrics she used was canvas, on which she painted and wrote stories.

At the center of her Tar Beach quilt is a painting of a family picnicking on the roof of a Harlem building. The image came to him from his childhood, of summer nights after sunset. His family gathered on the tarmac roof of his building. “Tar Beach” is also the title of her 1991 children's storybook, which features illustrated versions of her quilt paintings. Terry Gross spoke with Faith Ringgold after the book's publication. They began their conversation with another childhood memory. Faith Ringgold's mother was a seamstress and she was surrounded by fabrics when she was young.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

FAITH RINGGOLD: I was raised with little pieces of fabric. And I was always sewing and making things, you know, but then throwing them away because they didn't look – you know, I mean, we're trained to feel like everything is supposed to look like a commercial production . And so I didn't really like my little pieces of fabric. I wish I had some now. And – but it wasn't until the '70s, when we women artists were trying to figure out what women's art was, to identify who we were as women and what our culture was – I I had already gone through the '60s, where I had done it as a black person, going back to my African roots, using African art as my cultural stimulation, as my path to defining myself as a black person in art. And now I was starting over as a woman. And these two experiences have totally shaped my art.

TERRY GROSS: Did you know any other black artists or other female artists when you were starting out?

RINGGOLD: As a young student, no. I do not have. I had to find these things for myself. I wasn't taught about any black artists when I was at school. I have never had a black teacher in my life. But I… no, I didn't learn any of that in college. I had a hard time painting people with brown skin like mine. And I made them purple and orange…

GROSS: Is it difficult to find…

RINGGOLD: …And green.

GROSS: …The right colors for the complexion?

RINGGOLD: Yeah, especially when you're not being taught. You know, and my teachers thought I was exotic. They said to me, what are you trying to do? You know, why not… you know, why not just paint people? And I said, well, what do you mean? Which people? What are you talking about?

GROSS: (Laughter).

RINGGOLD: So, I mean, for them, you know, there was only one type of person: white people. I mean, what, are you trying to invent something new here? And I…well, I had to find out for myself. And in doing so, trying to mix colors to represent the browns I was interested in, I found orange, green, purple and all sorts of things before I was finally able to teach myself how to create the shades of black. people.

GROSS: I want to ask you about one of your previous quilts, and this one is called “Who's Afraid of Aunt Jemima?” What was the significance of the image of Aunt Jemima to you that led you to want to make a quilt on it?

RINGGOLD: Well, I was always quite put off by people's hatred of Aunt Jemima because of her size and her color and the way they changed her on the boxes. You know, Aunt Jemima's pancake box – if you look at the first ones when I was a kid, it was a lot darker. She had it – this cloth was tied in a different way, and her nose was wider, her lips were fuller, and she was fatter. Now it is thinner, lighter, the nose is thinner. I mean, what is all this?

And so I wanted to pay tribute to all these Aunt Jemimas that we have in all our families, these strong and very powerful women who sometimes don't pay attention to their weight because they are so busy feeding the whole family. , You know?

And it seems to be something of a riddle among people that there is often this aunt or sister in the family who denies their own life and existence in order to care for and provide for others. And that's what I associate with Aunt Jemima, a woman who cared and cared for people. I just didn't understand why people wanted to hate her.

GROSS: You made a quilt about your own weight loss.

RINGGOLD: Yes, I did.

GROSS: Do you want to describe this quilt?

RINGGOLD: And I guess also I associated very strongly with Aunt Jemima because, you know, I was fat too. And you get a lot of criticism from people when you are, you know? They care less about you. They feel like you can – you're big, so you can handle it, and they lean heavily on you.

This quilt that I made about weight loss was a public commitment to losing weight and a performance, too, that documented – the performance and the quilt documented all the decades of my life. I was born in 1930, so I made a whole collage of photos of me in the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s to see when I gained weight. In the 1930s, I wasn't fat. In the 1940s, I wasn't. In the 50s, I was a model for my mother. I was very thin. In the 1960s I married a second time and started gaining weight. In the 70s I gained even more weight, and the photos show it. And in the 80s I started even more.

And by 1986 I had grown to huge proportions and I really decided to lose it, so I went on a liquid diet. And then I left that and went to WeightWatchers, lost weight and completely changed the way I ate, stopped eating meat and dairy. It's a constant struggle, but I keep it public because that way it's not just between me and the food.

GROSS: You grew up in Harlem and you still have a studio there.

RINGGOLD: It's a pretty nice place to live. There's a… it's close to everywhere, you know? I mean, the transportation is great. People are friendly. I feel at home. I'm not a minority there. I've lived there all my life. I live in a beautiful building. Everyone says hello to me as they come in and out. When I leave, they miss me. When I come back, they are happy to see me. It's wonderful to live in Harlem. Sure, you don't wander around alone late at night, but you don't do that anywhere in New York.

GROSS: That's right.

RINGGOLD: You know?

GROSS: So what's keeping you in Harlem? This feeling of community?

RINGGOLD: Yeah. I like not being a minority. I like the idea that when I look around me, I see a lot of people like me. I go to a store, no one follows me thinking I'm trying to steal something, you know? And that happens a lot, you know? It makes no difference how you are dressed or who you are. You know, there's this stereotype that, you know, if it's Black, he must be doing something wrong. And so I like it. At home, at least I can relax and just be myself.

GROSS: Well, Faith Ringgold, thank you very much for speaking with us.

RINGGOLD: Well, thank you for inviting me. It was really fun.

MOSLEY: Artist Faith Ringgold, speaking to Terry Gross in 1991. Ringgold died last Saturday at the age of 93. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, investigative reporter Eric Schlosser joins us to talk about his latest look at our nation's food systems and how mergers and acquisitions have created inefficient, poorly regulated and, in some cases, dangerous. I hope you can join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUKE ELLINGTON'S “DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM”)

MOSLEY: To keep up to date with the show and get highlights from our interviews, follow us on Instagram @nprfreshair.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUKE ELLINGTON'S “DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM”)

MOSLEY: The executive producer of FRESH AIR is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Susan Nyakundi and Joel Wolfram. Our Digital Media Producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden produced today's show. With Terry Gross, I'm Tonya Mosley.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUKE ELLINGTON'S “DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM”)

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