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the womens’ faces resemble African masks. Picasso was big on African masks; pretty soon lots of other artists were too. How raw! How primitive! How real! Forget that the actual cultures being ripped-off weren’t primitive at all. That’s what masks and other African forms symbolized. It’s the logic of a whiteface minstrel show in paint. This puts an artist like Ringgold in a dilemma. “Who am I?” is the first question any artist has to ask and answer; an artist’s choice of style is the identity he/she projects to the world. If she draws from the inheritance of Matisse, Picasso and Modigliani, she’s joined the minstrel show. What’s left? Well, there’s plenty of artistic software on the shelf — pure abstraction, photo-realism. Ringgold’s strategy is to make a joke out of it. She’s primitive on purpose. At the same time, she returns Western art the compliment it played on Africa, weaving references to Titian’s depictions of the reclining Venus into her sly “Family Portrait” depicting a black woman holding a white baby, a black girl in the foreground, the baby’s eyes exchanging glances with a standing white guy in a formal portrait, to his left a portrait of a lounging black woman in reclining Venus pose. What’s that all about? Good question. (Ringgold extends her joke in her children’s book, “Dancing at the Louvre,” depicting a fieldtrip of black kids dancing in, out, around and through the serious art of the West. (Poor Picasso himself winds up nude in her take on

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Every picture hides a story. Faith Ringgold’s “A Family Portrait,” acrylic on canvas with painted and pieced border



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If you make it to Selby Gallery, be sure to check out the collection of sculptor Giordano’s elegant circular forms in aluminum and steel scattered about the nearby campus. Wallace Stevens once talked about a blackbird (one of 13) marking the edge of one of many circles — that blackbird would feel at home here. Giordano, too, makes the potential actual and gives form to the unseen. ❑

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Manet’s “Le Dejeuner sur L’herbe” — the women in the background are now all famous feminists. It’s a hoot.) What she’s doing is more than grinding the political axe of racial identity. She asked the political questions because they had to be asked. But it’s not the only thing on her mind. Her paintings are filled with Chagall-like images of miraculous human flight — the space of freedom she enters once she’s flown beyond the limitations of being merely a “black” or “woman” artist. What does she do with that freedom? She tells her own stories. Once the gravity of ethnic categories and political systems is left behind, her work becomes very personal — a kind of artistic scrapbook of her own family history. Seeing her art fills your head with questions, lots of them, going back to the central question, “Who am I?” Identity is the most invisible thing of all, as a philosopher once said, the eye can never see itself. But this exhibit makes the unseen visible ... As seen through the eyes of Faith.

‘Robert Giordano: Arcs, Circles, Spheres’ • Ringling School of Art and Design


Transatlantic Cruise Aboard the Olympia Explorer

Faith Ringgold’s stories take flight in her silkscreen-on-silk “Tar Beach 2.”

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January 30 2003  
January 30 2003