Faith Ringgold (b. 1930)
The pioneering artist tells stories through her quilts, canvases and other mixed media works – personal stories about African-American identity and history, and searing, heart-stopping critiques of racial politics in the United States. Born in Harlem in 1930, she was creative from an early age, encouraged by her fashion designer mother, and went on to build a career at a time when it was prohibitively difficult for a Black artist to find gallery representation. In the early 1960s, after completing her master’s degree, she made her first political paintings, The American People Series. In the 1970s, she began to make tankas (inspired by a Tibetan art form), soft sculptures and masks. African influences had long seeped into her work but she didn’t travel to the continent until the late 1970s, when she visited Nigeria and Ghana. She made her first quilt, Echoes of Harlem, in 1980, in collaboration with her mother, going on to develop her distinctive style of painting through the medium of quilt. Now aged 90, she continues to be a powerhouse in the world of contemporary art and craft, with an exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries in 2019 (astonishingly, her first European show), and her role as professor emeritus at the University of California, San Diego, where she taught art from 1987 until 2002.