“Storytellers: Faith Ringgold + Aminah Robinson” showcases the work of two game-changing African-American artists at Ringling College. Ringgold is a painter, a sculptor, a quilt-maker, and an award-winning children’s author and illustrator. Robinson’s art includes drawings, cloth paintings, books and woodcuts. Curators Tim Jaeger and Mikaela Lamarche reflect Robinson and Ringgold’s multimedia approach by framing their art in a narrative context.
It’s not an arbitrary theme. Robinson and Ringgold are up front. They speak to you directly, often blending image and text. Their art is never cryptic. Both artists want you to understand the meaning of their work and will spell it out, if need be. Storytelling is intrinsic to their art. And they’ve got plenty of stories to tell.
Ringgold is a New York City native who grew up during the Harlem Renaissance and came of age in the Civil Rights movement. Her “story quilts” capture the life of her community with bold colors and striking imagery. They draw elements from a variety of traditions, including Tibetan Buddhist tankas and the patterns of African-American folk art. According to Jaeger, quilting was also a practical decision.
“Ringgold became a full-time artist in the 1970s,” he says. “She needed to generate income and move her art around the city. She quickly discovered that large canvas paintings were bulky and hard to transport. But if she painted on a quilt, she could roll it up and take it anywhere. Pretty soon, that became her chief means of expression.”
“Tar Beach #2” (1993) is one of these quilts. It takes its name from the tar rooftops of New York’s inner city apartments. For the sweltering residents inside those buildings, the roof was the closest substitute for the beach. In Ringgold’s art, it’s a jumping-off point for magical realism. Here, a young black girl in Harlem named Cassie Louise Lightfoot has a dream of flight on a hot summer night in 1939. She flies above skyscrapers and the George Washington Bridge. The lesson? “Anyone can fly. All you have to do is try.”
Ringgold’s “The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles” (1997) transcends time. It’s a silkscreened print on a quilted backdrop – and also a quilt-within-a-quilt. The central image unites the living and the dead in an imagined space. A dream-team of eight, heroic Black women hold up a quilt of sunflowers, with a view of Arles in the background. These heroes from the 19th and 20th centuries include Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks. Van Gogh stands behind them, respectfully offering a bouquet of sunflowers.
Photo Credit: Aminah Robinson, Someday We'll be Free, Provided by Ringling College