Faith Ringgold

On the making of her retrospective

Faith Ringgold, Dancing at the Louvre: The French Collection Part I, #1, 1991, quilted fabric and acrylic paint, 73 1/2 x 80 1/2". © Faith Ringgold / ARS, NY and DACS, London via ACA Galleries, New York 2022.

For over six decades, the artist, activist, educator, and writer Faith Ringgold has drawn from both her own life and collective histories in the pursuit of racial justice and equity. From protesting museums with the Ad Hoc Women’s Art Committee in the 1970s to publishing and illustrating seventeen children’s books to her paintings, soft sculpture, and story quilts, her invincible spirit is fully apparent in “Faith Ringgold: American People,” the most comprehensive exhibition to date of her farsighted work. The show remains on view at the New Museum in New York through June 5, 2022.

IN 1988, I HAD A SOLO EXHIBITION at the New Museum: “Dancing at the Louvre: The French Collection and Other Story Quilts.” It was so successful that the show traveled for years. It seemed natural to have this much more expanded show at the museum. They were able to pull together the entire French Collection, which may never be seen together again for a long time. It feels very inspiring to be having my first major retrospective in my hometown, but it’s too bad I had to be ninety-one to get it. But I’m grateful. They did a great job and produced a fantastic catalogue.

Painting has always been my primary means of expression. It’s my way of trying to express the way I feel about the way things are. My work is always autobiographical—it’s about what is happening at the time. I always do what is honest to me. I think all artists should try to be knowledgeable about the world and express feelings about what they’re observing, what’s important to them. My advice is: Find your voice and don’t worry about what other people think.

I have found different ways of using my ability to express ideas in an abstract form. I started to work with abstraction after my mother passed. It was the first time that I just could not represent anything. I had to paint the void. I painted those abstractions to communicate the feeling of oneness or nothingness, which could convey the feeling of the loss of my mother. I just thought, wherever she is, it’s somewhere that I’ve never been and hopefully it’s beautiful, right?

Faith Ringgold, United States of Attica, 1972, offset lithograph, 21 5/8 × 27 3/8". Courtesy the artist and ACA Galleries, New York. © Faith Ringgold / ARS, NY and DACS, London via ACA Galleries, New York 2022.

There isn’t a specific protest that I would single out as particularly successful. I couldn’t pick just one of the many that I participated in throughout the years. The main thing is that I didn’t let things just pass. And I think our protests did affect change for many Black male artists, and even a few female Black artists too. So yes, I think there have been changes for the better. There could be a lot more change, and I think there will be more change. There’s room for a lot more. There’s got to be more consistent opposition to hatred and contempt in the world, and not adding more evil.

On what can one depend on in this time of deluge? Just be aware. I’m always looking for the right way to do things. I feel that it’s better to find the right way than it is to let it pass, or do things that you know are not correct. Most people know when they’re doing the wrong thing. Judge yourself. Don’t just do things to do things. Each one of us makes a contribution, so try to make yours worthwhile.

I really can’t think of one book that I consider my most important—because for each one I was driven to make it because I thought it was needed. I am so glad I published my autobiography We Flew Over the Bridge when I did, because if you wait too long, you’re going to miss out on a lot of important aspects of your life. I was born in 1930, and it was written in 1995—so that’s sixty-seven years. It was twelve years in the making; it didn’t just come out of nowhere. I had been saving information for years, paying strict attention to what I was doing and how I was doing it with the intention of writing the autobiography at some point.

Honestly, I like everything I’ve done. If I don’t like it, I wouldn’t finish it or even do it. If I finish it, that means I love it. I can’t work on work that I don’t love. Right now, I have three series that I began working on before the pandemic. I haven’t finished or shown them, and I’m not showing them until I finish them. I’m waiting to see what comes out of them.