Pippy Houldsworth Gallery
6 Heddon Street
February 23 - April 28
M. NourbeSe Philip’s book Blank (2017) asks if the lack of words in English—and other colonial languages—that account for slavery’s depredations has led to white anger and incomprehension at Black Lives Matter. Enter Faith Ringgold, whose painted quilts are visual equivalents to anticolonial subversions of the English language. These meticulously crafted and celebratory banners combine piecework quilting, figurative acrylic painting, and written stories to recount African American histories and rich narratives of her own family life. Such hybrid visual approaches are so far outside the orbit of most contemporary artwork as to provide the kind of counteraesthetic invoked by Christina Sharpe’s directive to recognize “insistent Black visual-sonic resistance.”
The Bitter Nest, Part III: Lovers in Paris, 1988, is the largest and most complex work here. Its luxuriant polychrome quilting, with inventive painted stylizations, depicts a pair of naked lovers. The extended tragicomic tale of a bittersweet affair consummated in Paris is inscribed by hand in two framing columns. An incandescent image of a large family of escaping slaves, dressed in white and emerging from woods exuberantly painted in lush green, comprises the fictional dream image of Coming to Jones Road Part II n.2 We Here Aunt Emmy Got Us Now, 2010. The family stands at the foot of a banner reading “Freedom 1792.” The direct paint application underlines the urgency of their flight, narrated in a single line of handwritten text around the border.
Among the six fabric pieces here are four early oil paintings that scrutinize politics even more sharply. Before the graphic Pop background of American People Series #9: The American Dream, 1964, a fashionable woman brandishes an oversize diamond ring. Her face is bisected, the front half white, the back black. Caucasian prosperity is founded on the eclipse of African American people’s hopes.