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American People Series by Faith Ringgold

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While Faith Ringgold has had a long and successful career, the most exciting and powerful works of art she has created were the works of the nineteen-sixties. These works illustrate such passion and raw truth of the situation she and all of the African American people of the U.S. were facing during those turbulent times. These works of art truly show the growing divide between the American dream and the reality of life for many people. Faith used her artwork to tell the world her views on the political movements of the time, and to also express her disapproval of violent protests that were happening. Ringgold believed that the rights of everyone could only be attained through the unification of all people at a basic undeniable level.

The American People series she created from nineteen sixty-three to sixty-seven were her first political paintings. These paintings were meant to confound the ways in which she was taught to paint. Instead of looking to Greece for inspiration as she was taught, she instead looked toward Africa. Her influences on the American People series were cubism and African art, a first and large step away from her schooling that she recently completed. She used bold flat colors and abstracted forms to create her own unique style.

The goal of the series was to paint a true picture of American Society and she accomplished this by "alluding to social movements that criticized specific aspects of the U.S. government policy and attempted to bring about change in the establishment."(Great Women Masters of Art p.438) While many people of the times were protesting these same issues Ringgold used her art to peacefully protest, and to illustrate her criticism for violent protests that occurred. According to Ringgold, "violent protest threatens the very existence of the country."(Great Women Masters p.439)

One work from this series that clearly demonstrates her ideas is, The Flag is Bleeding. This was the eighteenth painting in the series and is thought to be one of the most powerful. The painting illustrates three people set within an American flag, a white man, an African American man, with a white woman in the middle. She chose these three figures to "symbolize the primary social demands of the day."(Great Women Masters of Art p.439) This was important because it shows that she understood that there were many people of all types that were unified in the struggle of the equal rights and feminism movements that were very important not only to the people involved, but the entire country and society.

The African American man in the painting has one hand to his bleeding heart, and a knife is held in his other hand. This is a crucial message that Ringgold was trying to show the world. "The hand to the man's heart could symbolize his loyalty and devotion to his country, while the knife can be interpreted as his fight for freedom in this country that he cares so much for." "This double sided attitude of a single person representing the black community becomes both a denunciation and the artist's criticism of violent activism."(Great Women Masters of Art p. 439) One could speculate that this painting was also referencing the African American men fighting and dying in Vietnam, protecting the rights of the South Korean people and defending their country, while they weren't allowed the rights they deserved back home. She also possibly was sending a message to the more violent groups of the times such as the Black Panthers, that unity, opposed to violence would be the best way to accomplish their common goals. This very strong statement to the world was purposely simple in its design in order to make her painting more accessible to people, and to hopefully allow any person that looked at it understand the true meaning of her message.

Another work in the American People series that reveals her message of accomplishment through non- violent means quite clearly is, Die. Done in the summer of nineteen sixty-seven, the twelve foot wide mural depicting a street riot is a chaotic scene of African American and white men, women, and children. There are both African American and white men armed with guns and knives, fighting to the death. This is an exaggerated, but representational view of the racial battle between the African American and white men. "In these canvases the women play a pacifying role in the racial battle between black and white men."(The Expanding Discourse- Feminism and Art History p.469)

Both the African American and white women are frantically struggling against the men to reach the children and protect them from harm. There are two children in the bottom center of the painting, a white boy and an African American girl. They are hugging each other



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