The Masters | Faith Ringgold’s Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles and “Our Dedication to Change in the World”

Faith Ringgold. The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles. Acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border. 1991.

The National Sunflower Quilters of America are having quilting bees in sunflower fields all over the world to spread the cause of freedom. Aunt Melissa has written and informed me of this to say: “Go with them to the sunflower fields in Arles. And please take care of them in the foreign country, Willa Marie. These women are our freedom,” she wrote.

For our last sunflower masterpiece we bask in the awesome “presence” of Faith Ringgold’s  The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles. A print of the masterpiece sits in my home office [still] waiting to be framed. I have been trying to get to this post since I purchased it, but put it off many times because I am inclined to approach her work academically. For sanity’s sake, I need to keep my academic work and my blog separate.

Faith Ringgold (b. 1930) is an African American painter, mixed media sculptor, performance artist, writer, teacher and lecturer. Her work often carries strong socio-political messages about the African American experience. 

The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles is the fourth piece in Ringgold’s French Collection, a collection of 12 story quilts, that “uses a combination of painted images, narrative text, and decorative borders to explore the often absent role of African-American women in the art-world, particularly in Paris during the 1920s.” (Ellen C. Caldwell).

The story quilt features “The Sunflower Quilters Society of America” and its March 22, 1922 effort, a quilt bedecked with gorgeous sunflowers. Eight influential African American women hold the edge of the quilt, surrounded by a field of sunflowers in Arles. A “tormented” Vincent van Gogh stands just behind them offering his still life, Fifteen Sunflowers in a Vase, to the queens of change: Madam C.J. Walker, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Ella Baker [In a 1996 print, Ringgold added her fictional character in the lower left beside Madam C.J. Walker].

Around the edges of the quilt is the story–in 12 parts–of the Sunflower Quilters, as told by Ringgold’s fictional character, Willa Marie Simone. Van Gogh is a troublesome presence to some, like Harriet Tubman, who demands, “Make him leave. He reminds me of the slavers.” But Van Gogh is firmly planted: “Like one of the sunflowers, he appeared to be growing out of the ground.” And when the sun went down and it was time for the women to leave, “the tormented little man just settled inside himself and took on the look of the sunflowers in the field as if he was one of them” [Part 7].

I got to get back to the railroad, Harriet said. “Ain’t all of us free yet, no matter how many them laws they pass. Sojourner fighting for women’s rights. Fannie for voter registration. Ella and Rosa working on civil rights. Ida looking out for mens getting lynch. Mary Bethune getting younguns education, and Madam making money fixing hair and giving us jobs. Lord we’re sure busy.” [Part 11]

Through The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles Ringgold pays homage to and celebrates African American women and their contributions to education, freedom, and justice. She also honors the fine artistry of African American quilt making. Through the piece she acknowledges van Gogh’s contribution to the art world, but she calls on us to also recognize the equal contribution of African American women artists.

Want more information? Be sure to click the links in this posts and check out these additional links:

Until next time…Shine on!

 

Fractals | Artistry, Magic, and Song

Frax-1

About five years ago, my friend, international poet and scholar, Dr. Jerry W. Ward, Jr., published a collection of poetry entitled Fractal Song. I have yet to speak with Ward about the title of the collection. I assumed it was connected to his interest (and degree) in mathematics. If you’ve been paying attention, you know my relationship with mathematics is an only-when-necessary one. For that reason, I gave the title and cover (which features a fractal) only cursory acknowledgment until I started playing around with my own fractal art.

The poems, which deal primarily with Black experience, possess cadences akin to traditional Black music forms–jazz and blues and maybe, even hip hop. At times, the words mimic the woeful whine of a saxophone, just grazing the deep ache of our longing. At other times, the poems hit the wry tone and rhythm of blues. Reality is matter-of-fact. We note it and we find ways to go on, laughing to keep from crying. Then, there is in some of the poems the flippant, unapologetic, unvarnished truth-telling, which makes hip hop so appealing.

Frax-4

The word fractal has its roots in the Latin fract-, “broken” from the verb “frangere,” which means to break. When I look closely at the fractals created from my photographs, I notice there is a slight break or opening that begins or disrupts (?) the pattern, so I’ve been thinking about the etymology of the word and how it impacts my reading of Ward’s poems.

There is much in Fractal Songs that opens and “breaks.” Traditional and experimental lines break. Time breaks as the poet traverses various historical and literary moments. And, certainly, there is his handling of much that is dark and broken in the African American (particularly) male experience.

Ward’s poems will not leave one feeling warm and fuzzy, as some expect when they encounter poetry. The poems in the collection are gritty and rugged. However, like fractals, there is artistry, beauty, and magic–even in the brokenness.


fractal song coverYour Voice
Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

It’s a magic thing
Sun and rain and poetry
Flooding in my memory,
But all I can remember
Is how you got over
A deep river
With amazing grace
And cursed your blues
With natural rhythms.

“In This Here Place…”

Emilio Cruz. Figurative Composition #7, 1965, oil on canvas. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David K. Anderson, Martha Jackson Memorial Collection, 1980.137.21

We are nearing the end of discussion of Toni Morrison’s Beloved in one of my classes. My favorite part of the novel (and perhaps the reason I love it so much) is the sermon Baby Suggs, holy delivers in the Clearing. Instead of an actual Bible verse, love is her text. To those newly loosed [one way or another] from the chains and nightmare of slavery it is a reminder of their humanity and a call to release the atrocities of the past and imagine a new reality. After exorcising their demons through dance, laughter, and tears, Baby Suggs delivers a love letter to their beautiful souls. For me, this is the most powerful part of the book:

In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.  –Toni Morrison, Beloved

I cannot locate a quality clip of Beah Richard’s phenomenal [understatement] performance of the second part [above] of Baby Sugg’s sermon, but here’s the first part.


About the Image: The artwork featured above is the work of Emilio Cruz, an African American artist of Cuban descent. You can see more of his work by clicking the link. It is one of the postcards in Paintings by African-Americans from the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Unbought and Unbossed | Black Women Who Ran

You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas. —Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005).

Today is President’s Day, but I’m not thinking about the dead white men who are featured on U.S. currency; I’m thinking about the Black women who ran for President of the United States.

I drafted a lengthier [not published] post on this topic four [plus] years ago when Hillary Clinton was the Democratic presidential candidate. At the time, I was annoyed because in some media circles there was almost an erasure of the women who paved the way for Clinton. She did achieve some firsts–first to win a major party nomination by winning a majority of the delegates in the Democratic Party primaries and the first to win the popular vote–but obviously Clinton was not the first woman to run for president.

Among the many women who preceded Clinton’s first bid for the presidency in 2008 were more than a few African American women: Charlene Mitchell (1968); Margaret Wright (1976); Isabel Masters (1984, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004); Lenora Fulani (1988); Monica Moorhead (1996, 2000, 2016); Joy Chavis Rocker (2000); Carolyn Moseley Braun (2004); Cynthia McKinney (2008).

Peta Lindsay (2012) and Kamala Harris (2019) followed.

Besides our current Vice President, perhaps, the most celebrated Black woman who ran for President of the United States is the “unbought and unbossed” Shirley Chisholm. Chisholm, who began her career as a teacher, became the first African American woman to be elected  to Congress. She served seven terms for her New York district. Four years into her service as Congresswoman, Chisholm became the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for President of the United States from one of the two major political parties (1972). You can read all about Chisholm’s bid for the presidency in the April 2016 Smithsonian Magazine article.

These women ran on various party tickets–the Communist Party, the People’s Party, the Green Party, Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Looking Back Party, the Workers World Party, the Independent Party, and of course, Republican and Democratic parties. Despite their diverse approaches, the platforms of these women were similar; they focused on education, social justice, and economic and racial equality.


About the Image: Like the image in last Monday’s microblog, this image is the work of artist Erin K. Robinson. It is part of a beautiful collection of postcards, Brave. Black. First. Celebrating 50 African American Women Who Changed the World, published by Clarkson/Potter Publisher, an imprint of Penguin Random House in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Does the yellow and red remind you of anything? 😉

“A Valentine”

A Valentine (1906)
Priscilla Jane Thompson

Out of the depths of a heart of love,
     Out of the birth-place of sighs,
Freighted with hope and freighted with fear,
     My all in a valentine, hies.
     Oh, frail little missive
            Of delicate texture,
     Speed thee, on thy journey,
            And give her a lecture! 

Fathom her heart, that seems to me, cold,
     Trouble her bosom, as mine,
Let it be mutual, this that I crave,
     Her ‘yes’ for a valentine.
     Oh, frail little missive,
            In coy Cupid’s keeping,
     Oh! speed back a message,
            To set my pulse leaping.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Focus on Black: Click the link and learn a bit about Priscilla Jane Thompson.

#ThursdayTreeLove | Le Flamboyant

“Le Flamboyant,” 2003, Enel Desir. Acrylic on Canvas.

Isn’t this a stunning work of art?

I pulled “Le Flamboyant,” the image above, from an old agenda that I can’t bring myself to toss because it is beautiful and educational. Though I love the rural scene depicted here, we all know I am drawn to this masterpiece because of the “flamboyant” or flame tree, which dominates this work of Haitian artist Enel Desir.

Enel Desir was born in Cavaillon, a small town in southwest Haiti, and began painting at a very young age. While attending the lycée [high school], he worked various jobs–as a photographer-reporter, a calligrapher, and an illustrator. Under the supervision of a French art teacher, Desir studied the work of such great masters as Velasquez, Renoir, and Rembrandt, which had tremendous influence on his early style.

One of his favorite subjects is the Haitian market scene, which he interprets through his colorful depictions of merchants selling flowers, and his still lifes of local fruits and vegetables. The colors Desir uses–soft green, red, orange, light blue, and yellow–enhance the appearance of the black skin of the human figures in his paintings. In 1991, the art critic Ed McCormack compared Desir with the great Mexican muralist Siqueiros. “Desir,” McCormack said, “creates sophisticated pictorials.”

Desir has participated in numerous worldwide exhibitions; his paintings have always been well received, particularly in the International Exhibition of Seville, Spain (1992) and in South Africa. Very much in demand, his works have been featured on television and in museums, books, magazines, and newspapers around the world. He was a featured artist at the Organization of American States’ exhibit in Haiti, held in Washington, DC, where he resides and paints. –from 365 Days of Black History, IOKTS Productions, published by Pomegranate.

I have had little success with finding more of Desir’s art via the internet. One brief biography of the artist pointed out that though he is a prolific artist compelled to create art, his work is scarce in the marketplace. I did manage to find one other image at the Galerie d’Art Nader of Haiti.

For actual photos of the beautiful flamboyant tree, click here.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Love of Freedom

In every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance.

–18th century poet, Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), in a letter to Native American ordained Presbyterian minister, Samson Occom (1723-1792)


About the Image: The gorgeous portrait of Phillis Wheatley is the work of artist Erin K. Robinson. It is part of a beautiful collection of postcards, Brave. Black. First. Celebrating 50 African American Women Who Changed the World, published by Clarkson/Potter Publisher, an imprint of Penguin Random House in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. I received the collection as a gift from my hubby. Thankfully, the box includes two sets of the postcards–I send 50 out into the world and keep 50 for myself! 😉

Tired like Langston

“Langston,” Lynita Solomon. Used by Permission of the Artist

Yesterday, I read a Facebook post by a woman who denigrated Vice President Kamala Harris for no good reason. The woman asserted that Harris is not a role model and no one should have their daughters look up to her.

The post and responses were hateful and extremely disrespectful. I can’t figure out how people can stir up so much hatred for a person they don’t know just because they don’t agree with the person’s policies or positions on certain issues.

Beyond this illogic, some made lewd remarks and [like the original poster] claimed Harris did “anything” to reach the VP position. The whole thing was disturbing. And to make matters worse, the post was “liked” thousands of times and shared more than 17,000 times!

The comments played into the hypersexualized view of Black women that was written into the narrative of American history to cover the multitude of white men’s violations against Black women’s bodies and personhood. The narrative is hurtful and just as dangerous as the one that gets Black men and women shot for just breathing.

Like the speaker in Langston Hughes’s poem, I’m so tired.

Tired
Langston Hughes

I am so tired of waiting.

Aren’t you,
for the world to become good
and beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
and cut the world in two —
and see what worms are eating
at the rind.

About the Image: The art above is the work of graphic illustrator, Lynita “Elle” Solomon. She posted the image on Instagram in honor of the day Langston Hughes was born, 119 years ago. Lynita has an amazing way of presenting her subjects “without faces,” but we know exactly who they are anyway. You can see more of her work by clicking the image above.

Sunflowers for Inauguration Day!

And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation
that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.

–from “The Hill We Climb,” Amanda Gorman, National Youth Poet Laureate

If you haven’t heard, Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., the 46th President of the United States, was sworn in today.  And history was made today when Kamala Devi Harris, the very first woman and very first Black woman was sworn in as Vice President of the United States. Based on recent events in the USA, it’s hard to believe I bore witness to this bit of history.

I am excited and hopeful and relieved (all adjectives my students used to express their feelings about the inauguration).

One of my students expressed hesitation toward hope. She commented about the propensity [of many Americans] to raise the alarm and fight the good fight but then lapse into inaction when the major crisis is over. Her concern is valid, but the insurrection on Capitol Hill a couple of weeks ago gave us a glimpse of what can happen if we do not guard our democracy fiercely. “The Hill We Climb,” the inaugural poem written and performed by Amanda Gorman, the very first National Youth Poet Laureate, poignantly emphasized this point.

We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
It can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith, we trust.
For while we have our eyes on the future,
history has its eyes on us.

Though we are flawed and prone to temporary amnesia, I am hopeful that we will accept the charge Gorman [implicitly] issued through her poem. It is up to each individual citizen of the United States to protect and uphold democracy.

Peace: The Icon and the Symbol

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.  –Matthew 5:9

Did you know the sunflower is a symbol of peace? That makes it the perfect image to share for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

King stirred things up and disrupted the status quo. He bravely spoke truth to power and, through the Civil Rights Movement, stimulated the conscience of a nation. He met with state-sanctioned violence at almost every turn, but peace was his means for change. And peace was his goal.

If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. –Martin Luther King, Jr., “Christmas Sermon on Peace,” 1967


About the Image: The postcard above came from my Love Notes friend Debbie T. Debbie has been through a lot of heartache this year, but she pulled from her store of love and sent a beautiful package of [sun]flower love just because. This was just one of the many bright and cheerful postcards included in the set. The postcard is from Christopher Arndt Postcards. It is a “derivative photo” based on original photograph by David Clode on Unsplash.