NEARLY 40 YEARS AGO, the College Art Association’s National Women’s Caucus for Art planned an exhibition featuring works by “Afro-American” women artists. Co-curated by Emily Martin and Tritobia Benjamin (1944-2014), an art historian and professor at Howard University, the show was to be presented at CAA’s 1979 annual conference in Washington, D.C.
Forty-six artists—including Camille Billops, Lilian T. Burwell, Lois Mailou Jones, Samella S. Lewis, Elizabeth Catlett Mora, Mavis Pusey, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, and Alma Thomas—submitted materials in anticipation of the exhibition, but it was cancelled due to lack of funding. The materials provided including biographical information, artist statements, photographs of the artists and their work are preserved on microfilm at the Archives of American art.
The CAA exhibition was never realized, but this spring several group shows focus on the work of African American female artists, revisiting the concept. Some of the artists who submitted their materials in 1979 are featured in the new shows, including Billops, Catlett, Jones, Lewis, Ringgold, Saar, and Thomas.
Ringgold designed a red, black and green poster for the Committee to Defend the Black Panthers in 1970. Created for the Black Panther Party in New York, the poster was recently acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, along with several other political posters by the artist, and is featured in “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85” at the Brooklyn Museum. Opening April 21, the forthcoming exhibition is one of 10 being presented by the museum in celebration of the 10th anniversary of its Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. (Recently on view, “Beverly Buchanan—Ruins and Rituals,” was also a part of the commemorative programming.)
Billed as the first exhibition of its kind, “We Wanted a Revolution” foregrounds the voices, experiences, and perspectives of black women artists and examines the intersection of art, race, and political action during the second wave of feminism. The Brooklyn Museum exhibition headlines a season featuring several other women-only shows organized around modern and contemporary black artists.
SAMELLA LEWIS, “Migrants,” 1968 (linoleum cut, edition of 10 ). | via CSUSB
“Enduring in Vision and Linked in Tradition: Four Generations of African American Women Artists” @ Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art, California State University, San Bernadino (CSUSB) | Feb. 11-April 8, 2017
CSUSB describes this exhibition as the museum’s first-ever featuring African American artists. Spanning four generations, from the early 20th century to the contemporary moment, the presentation includes the work of 12 African American women artists, many from the Los Angeles area. Participants include Elizabeth Catlett, Kenturah Davis, Lois Mailou Jones, Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, Samella Lewis, along with Betye Saar, Alison Saar, and Lezley Saar.
AMY SHERALD, “Saint Woman,” 2015 (oil on Canvas). | Loan from Private Collection and Monique Meloche Gallery via Monique Meloche Gallery
“Shifting: African American Women Artists and the Power of Their Gaze” @ David Driskell Center, University of Maryland, College Park | March 2-May 26, 2017
This exhibition features 39 black female artists, spanning three generations and a range of mediums whose works consider other women or in which they turn inward in an exercise of self-examination. Emma Amos, Chakaia Booker, Nona Faustine, Lois Mailou Jones, Beverly McIver, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, Alison Saar, Amy Sherald, Renee Stout, Mickalene Thomas, Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, and Deborah Willis, are among the contributors.
RUBY ONYINYECHI AMANZE, “Starfish,” 2016 (ink, graphite, flourescent acrylic, photo transfers). | via Jenkins Johnson
“Dialogues in Drawing” @ Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco | March 16-May 13, 2017
This exhibition brings together women for whom drawing is a critical means of expression, artists who are “actively engaged in processes of describing and re-describing the world.” Mounted in celebration of Women’s History Month, this group show features 17 artists. The diverse group spans backgrounds and generations, and black women are well represented. ruby onyinyechi amanze, Torkwase Dyson, Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Ebony G. Patterson, Adrian Piper, Tracey Rose, Alison Saar, Shinique Smith, Samantha Vernon, and Saya Woolfalk, are among the artists featured.
Artist FATIMA WHITE at the Objects House, Round 46: Project Row Houses | via BWAforBLM on Instagram
“Round 46: Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter” @ Project Row Houses, Houston | March 25-June 4, 2017
Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter (BWAforBLM) is taking over Project Row Houses in Houston’s Third Ward. The artist collective is programming seven art houses, creating spaces for dialogue to raise issues that impact the lives and movement of black people. Through performances, site-specific installations, objects, and multimedia, black women artists are providing a platform for sharing the experiences of black people and shining a light on racial injustice. Choosing activism as a response to racism, BWAforBLM was first organized during Simone Leigh‘s 2016 residency and exhibition at the New Museum in New York.
FAITH RINGGOLD, “Black Light Series #10 Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger,” 1969 (oil on canvas). | Courtesy of ACA Galleries NYC
“Power: Work By African American Women From The Nineteenth Century To Now” @ Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles | March 29-June 10, 2017
Curated by Todd Levin, an independent curator, this exhibition features 37 artists whose works span the 19th century to the present. The exhibition encourages a dialogue between “fine and folk art traditions to explore how artists have engaged issues of race, gender, and class against our evolving cultural and artistic landscape.” Titled after the 1970 gospel song by Sister Gertrude Morgan, the Alabama-born, New Orleans-based, self taught painter is included in the show, along with Alma Thomas, Betye Saar, Faith Ringgold, Lorraine O’Grady, Senga Nengudi, Carrie Mae Weems, Beverly Buchanan, Ellen Gallagher, Julie Mehretu, Kara Walker Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Brenna Youngblood, and Nona Faustine, among many others.
JAN VAN RAAY, “Michelle Wallace (center) and Faith Ringgold (right) participating in Art Workers Coalition Protest at Whitney Museum,” 1971 (digital C-print). | Courtesy Jan Van Raay Portland, OR, 305-307. Copyright © Jan Van Raay via Brooklyn Museum
“We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85” @ Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, N.Y. | April 21-Sept. 17, 2017
Descried by the museum as the first-ever exhibition to present the perspectives of women of color “distinct from the primarily white, middle-class mainstream feminist movement—in order to reorient conversations around race, feminism, political action, art production, and art history in this significant historical period.” The contributing artists come from a variety of backgrounds and include men. The group features Emma Amos, Camille Billops, Linda Goode Bryant, Beverly Buchanan, Elizabeth Catlett, Julie Dash, Jeff Donaldson, Maren Hassinger, Jae Jarrell, Wadsworth Jarrell, Loïs Mailou Jones, Samella Lewis, Senga Nengudi, Lorraine O’Grady, Howardena Pindell, Faith Ringgold, Alison Saar, Betye Saar, Coreen Simpson, Lorna Simpson, and Carrie Mae Weems. CT
Update (3/26/17): Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter at Project Row Houses in Houston was added to the list. h/t Kanitra Fletcher
Two books—a compilation of historic writings and a publication of new essays—are planned to accompany “We Wanted a Revolution” at the Brooklyn Museum. To delve further into the legacy of black women artists and the broad scope of there practices, consider “Creating Their Own Image: The History of African-American Women Artists” and “Bearing Witness” featured 25 artist paid tribute to Spelman’s new museum when it opened. On the political front, “Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power” reports on African American artists and curators fought for influence with New York City’s major museums in the late 1960s. “American People, Black Light” was published to coincide with the first exhibition to examine Faith Ringgolds early paintings, political posters and murals. The show was organized by the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, N.Y., traveled to Perez Art Museum Miami, and was later presented at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.
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