Thursday, May 13, 2010

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

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About Me

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I am a writer and a professor of English at the City College of New York, and the CUNY Graduate Center. My books include Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman (1979), Invisibility Blues (1990), Black Popular Culture (1992), and Dark Designs and Visual Culture (2005). I write cultural criticism frequently and am currently working on a project on creativity and feminism among the women in my family, some of which is posted on the Soul Pictures blog.