Renowned Black activist, artist, and author Faith Ringgold dead at 93

 April 14, 2024

Faith Ringgold, a prominent award-winning Black author, artist, and activist, whose work provided commentary on social issues like racism and sexism, has passed away at the age of 93, the Associated Press reported.

Her death occurred Friday night at her home in Englewood, New Jersey, according to her assistant, Grace Matthews, who revealed that Ringgold had been suffering from failing health.

Ringgold, who is arguably most famous for her painted and sewn canvas quilts that featured illustrated narratives about black life in America, was also renowned for the illustrative children's books she wrote later in life.

A life dedicated to artistry

The New York Times reported that Ringgold was born in October 1930 in Harlem to a garbage truck driver father, Andrew Louis Jones, and a seamstress mother, Willi Posey Jones, who later became a successful fashion designer and shop owner.

Ringgold began drawing and painting at a young age as a result of the asthma she suffered that often kept her confined at home. After graduating from high school in Manhattan, she earned an art and education bachelor's degree in 1955 from City College of New York, then followed that up with a master's degree in art just four years later from the same school.

Immediately after high school, she was married to jazz musician Robert Earl Wallace, with whom she had two daughters, but was separated and divorced from him just a few years later when she discovered he was a drug addict -- one who died of an overdose in 1961 around five years after the split.

She then married Burdette Ringgold in 1962 and remained wedded to him until his death in 2020.

For nearly 20 years, from 1955 to 1973, Ringgold worked as an art teacher in New York City's public school system while trying to establish herself as a painter but eventually quit teaching to focus on her art and activism full-time. She returned to teaching later in life at the University of California in San Diego and other art institutes in New York.

Social activism through art

ARTNews reported that Ringgold's passing was confirmed by ACA Galleries, her longtime representative in New York, but no cause of death was disclosed.

In addition to her artistry, Ringgold also became an activist in the late 1960s and 70s, often organizing protests outside museums that excluded black or female artists and in defense of the First Amendment, and was even arrested for her demonstrations on a few occasions.

Particularly early on in her art career, she expressed her voice of protest through her paintings, though she continued to speak out on the issues of class, racism, and sexism throughout the years, even as she became widely acclaimed and saw her work featured prominently in many of the most prestigious museums across America and around the world.

A multi-generational inspiration

"Faith Ringgold opened the door for younger artists -- for artists after her, Black artists in particular -- to carry their message through these alternative kinds of media," Adrienne Childs, an art historian and curator, told NPR.

Her evocative, and at times provocative work -- whether through her paintings, quilts, sculptures, performance art, or books -- undoubtedly inspired countless people across multiple generations.

Ringgold is survived by her two daughters, Barbara and Michele Wallace, plus three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, according to The Times.

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