For six decades, Faith Ringgold has been a defining force in contemporary art. Through craft, costume, and more, she tells stories that are deeply personal, celebratory of African American culture, and rooted in political activism. As an artist and author, Ringgold explores themes of identity and history, and is a longtime leader in Black activist and feminist movements.
The Worcester Art Museum is holding Ringgold’s first solo exhibition in New England in nearly 15 years. Faith Ringgold: Freedom to Say What I Please is centered around “Picasso’s Studio” (1991), one of the artist’s famous “story quilts” and a cornerstone of the Worcester Art Museum’s collection. The quilt depicts a young Black woman modeling for Pablo Picasso as part of his famous Cubist painting, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (1907). Picasso was heavily influenced by the aesthetics created by African artists, particularly as seen in African masks. By placing a Black woman at the center of Picasso’s painting, Ringgold reasserts the importance of Black women in the history of art — a reality that has been denied through decades of racism and sexism.
The exhibition title comes from a portion of the story inscribed on “Picasso’s Studio”, spoken by the fictional character modeling and inspired by Ringgold’s life experiences: “You asked me once why I wanted to become an artist and I said I didn’t know. Well I know now. It is because it’s the only way I know of feeling free. My art is my freedom to say what I please. [It’s not important] what color you are, you can do what you want [with your] art. They may not like it, or buy it, or even let you know it; but they can’t stop you from doing it.” These words aptly describe Ringgold’s approach to her artwork, and are echoed throughout the exhibition in works spanning her career.
On February 22, 2024, the museum will host a landmark talk about the artist’s life and career with Michele Faith Wallace (professor, author, and Ringgold’s daughter) and Dorian Bergen (Ringgold’s longtime gallerist). This conversation, between those who know Ringgold and her art most intimately, will offer a unique insight into the crucial impact and continued relevance of Ringgold’s work.
Organized by Samantha Cataldo, the Worcester Art Museum’s Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, Faith Ringgold: Freedom to Say What I Please is on view through March 17, 2024.
For more information, visit worcesterart.org.