Critics’ Picks

Faith Ringgold, 
Black Light Series #10: Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger, 
oil on Canvas, 
36 x 18”.

New York

Faith Ringgold

ACA Galleries
529 West 20th Street 5th Floor
March 2 - April 27

Following the first comprehensive survey of Faith Ringgold’s paintings from the 1960s at the Neuberger Museum of Art in 2010, this exhibition of her early works includes selections from the series “American People,” 1962–67, and “Black Light,” 1967–69, as well as six examples of her famed story quilt paintings. The Lover’s Trilogy: #2 Sleeping, 1986, an example of the latter, depicts a couple sleeping with a blanket running across their bodies, embellished with the story of their dysfunctional yet loving relationship, while the colors and shapes of fabric surrounding the figures speak to their African heritage. This work, like all of Ringgold’s quilts, revivifies a tradition—historically “women’s work”—while also proposing an alternative format for painting, still vibrant even five decades after its first articulations.

It is in her oil paintings, however, that one sees how Ringgold directly grappled with the weight of the European tradition she learned as an art student at the City College of New York in the 1950s. Take Black Light Series #10: Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger, 1969, for instance, which was created in response to the first image of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The piece portrays the American flag, with some editorial revisions. Embedded among the gray stars of Old Glory, and only a few hues darker than them, is the word DIE. Though rendered in capital letters, it is surprisingly subtle, coded into the pattern. But the command is clear, testifying to a reality of enduring prejudice and racism still apparent in the fabric of our society. Irregular, mazelike gray and red stripes suggest an alternative iconic image for another America, perhaps the one first glimpsed on a mass scale during the civil rights movement by way of the newly established ubiquity of television and media. Ringgold’s stars and stripes disrupt the image and narrative of national harmony that the flag vaunts, and challenges America’s hubris in perpetuating a legacy of colonization. These early works remain relevant as evidence of the struggle and triumph of her fight to claim difference and individual identity as both a virtue and a form of resistance to the homogenization of artistic discourse.