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Photo by Stefan Ruiz, The New York Times

Faith Ringgold (born October 8, 1930) is a painter, writer, speaker, mixed media sculptor and performance artist. She learned how to sew as a child from her mother. Her signature work is her evocative series of “story quilts,” which include both imagery and handwritten text; she made her first of these, “Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima,” in 1983. Ringgold is also professor emeritus at the University of California, San Diego where she taught art from 1987 until 2002. She is the recipient of more than 75 awards including 22 Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts Degrees.

I had the privilege of seeing one of Ringgold’s paintings in person this past winter in an exhibition in Austin, TX called “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties.” The piece titled “Flag For the Moon: Die Nigger” (ouch, it hurts inside to even type that word, even for this purpose) was at first subtle. And then—bam!—as soon as I saw the words (take a moment to look), it hit me like a ton of bricks. Even when I look at the piece now, I get choked up inside. The metaphor of the vivid, raw reality of the violence of racism being painted into the very stars and stripes of our country’s flag is too powerful to ignore; she doesn’t flinch—she demands we look. Ringgold is an American icon to be sure and an unforgettable master of American Art.

Faith Ringgold is African American artist #1 of 25 in my project “Have You Heard Of…?”

"Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger" from the series Black Light #10 (1969) Oil on canvas

36 x 50 in.

"A Family Portrait" (1997) Acrylic on canvas; painted and pieced border

79.5 x 80 in.

"We Came to America" (1997) Painted story quilt, acrylic on canvas with fabric border 74.5 x 79.5 in

Street Story Quilt #1, 2, 3 (1985) Acrylic on canvas, dyed, painted and pieced fabric (triptych) 90 x 144 in.

American People #20 Die (1967) Oil on canvas 72 x 144 in.

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