Subway Graffiti #3

Artist: Faith Ringgold
Subway Graffiti #3, a painting

Faith Ringgold, Subway Graffiti #3, 1987, acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border, 60 x 84 inches, Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Curtis and Mary Ann Atkisson, Sam and Diane Stewart, Jack R. and Mary Lois Wheatley, Stephen and Martha West, David and Bianca Lisonbee, and Craig and Marilyn Faulkner.

Commentary by Jacqueline Thursby
Associate Professor of English

Faith Ringgold grew up in Harlem amidst a family folk tradition of quilt making. When she was recovering from bouts of childhood asthma, her favorite pastimes were drawing and creating things out of scraps of fabric given to her by her mother. Folk belief, according to Ringgold’s daughter, writer Michelle Wallace, is that “Black women have always insisted on being artists. . . they’ve insisted upon it since the first slaves incorporated black designs into the making of quilts. . . “(3).

After gaining renown in the art world with her political statement paintings in the 1970s and 80s, Ringgold began creating story quilts that celebrate what folklorists call expressive culture. Quilts, a folk tradition and something with which we are all familiar, render Ringgold’s popular quilt stories user-friendly and non-confusing. Her quilt stories are paintings surrounded by fabric designs in bright colors and soft textures. The paintings bring together her lifetime of art experience, ancient African color juxtapositions, familial nostalgia, and myriad patterns drawn from her own inventiveness, observation, and teaching.

Subway Graffiti #3 was created after Ringgold traveled to Japan in 1986. The crowded subway station and unfamiliar writing, which looked like graffiti, inspired her to paint this as a special tribute to Barbara, her much loved deceased sister who always called herself “The Princess.” Ringgold included family and friends in the central panel as well as luminaries such as Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. Marked T-shirts identify these as well as “Miami Vice” and “Ghostbusters”–all figures in American popular culture and folklore.

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