Artist Ringgold describes her work telling the story of African Americans

Faith Ringgold delivering a Chubb Lecture at Yale University
(Photo credit: Michael Marsland)

Artist and activist Faith Ringgold took audience members on a visual journey through her nearly seven-decade career during her Chubb Fellowship Lecture at Yale on Feb. 15.

Using slides as illustrations, Ringgold described her evolution as an artist — from her college years through the present. She showed the audience a self-portrait she created in 1965. The work shows her cradling herself “for the long haul ahead of me,” she said, and includes tiny blue stop signs in the background.

I was trying very hard to show my life and to tell my story, because that is what an artist is supposed to be doing: telling their story,” she said.

She added: “Art is important because you can tell what happens to people all over the world at any time in their history from looking at their art. I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to help tell the story of African Americans in America in the time that I was living …”

Ringgold also showed works from her “American People” series created in the early 1960s. Some of the images, she said, were inspired by her own experiences — such as “For Members Only,” which depicts the stone-faced white men who told the artist and others that they had to leave Tibbets Brook Park, where they had been holding a Sunday school picnic. Other works in the series are more symbolic — such as “In Crowd,” which shows several white men, one of whom has his hand over the mouth of the lone black man at the bottom of the painting.

Her other series from the 1960s, “Black Light: black paintings of black people,” was inspired, in part, by her observation that dark colors appeared black against a white background, but showed their true colors when placed next to another dark color. It was also inspired by the “Black Is Beautiful” movement of the late 1960s, she said, noting, “I wanted to show the beautiful skin tones of black people.”

Ringgold has created several other series, including ones on the Bill of Rights, Martin Luther King Jr.’s letters from prison, and the 9/11 attacks. She was commissioned to create a series of 56 murals for the Los Angeles Metro system. In addition to painting, she has also worked in other mediums — creating dolls, quilts, masks, and sculptures depicting the people and issues of her time, as well as 20 children books.

Her advice, she said at one point, is “don’t turn down an opportunity.”

Watch the video of Faith Ringgold’s speech:

Prior to the artist’s talk, it was announced that the Grace Hopper College Window Commission Committee had recommended that Ringgold be the artist to design new windows for the residential college. The committee was established in April of 2017, following the announcement that windows from the college (then known as Calhoun College) would be removed and conserved for study.

The Chubb Fellowship was founded with a gift from Yale alumnus Hendon Chubb, and since 1949 has been one of Yale’s most prestigious honors conferred on visiting speakers. The Timothy Dwight College Head of College, currently Mary Lui, administers the fellowship, which is devoted to encouraging interest in public service. Chubb Fellows spend their time at Yale in close, informal contact with students and make an appearance open to the public. Former Chubb Fellows include Presidents George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and Harry Truman; authors Wendell Berry and Toni Morrison; actors Morgan Freeman and Shah Rukh Khan; world leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; journalist Nicholas Kristof; and many other nationally and internationally prominent citizens and leaders.

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