'We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85' Closing Symposium at CAAM in LA
This weekend at the California African American Museum in LA, the Closing Symposium for We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85 brought a group of black female artists together to reflect on their work, the impact it had on the Los Angeles art scene, and the importance of this exhibition in 2018.
The Symposium's opening remarks were given by artist Alison Saar, honoring her mother Betye Saar and another influential artist, Samella Lewis. Betye's other daughter Lezley Saar, who currently has an exhibition at CAAM titled, Salon des Refusés, was also present. Alison spoke of the influence people like Lewis and her mother had on the next generation of black women creatives who saw their work in galleries and were inspired to dedicate their own lives to art making.
Following was a conversation with artist Faith Ringgold and her daughter, feminist author Michele Wallace, moderated by Erin Christovale, Assistant Curator at the Hammer Museum. Ringgold spoke on For the Women’s House, a large mural created for the Riker's Island Women's Prison, which depicts women of different races in occupations that were largely inaccessible to them in the 1970s. The mural was later covered up and removed when Riker's Island reopened as a mens prison, until she rescued it from the basement. The mural is the opening piece of the exhibition. Ringgold and Wallace fondly remembered the tradition of quilting and sewing taken up by Ringgold's mother, a fashion designer who went by the name of Madame Willi Posey. Following her mothers' death, the quilting medium became an important aspect of Ringgold's work.
The two artists also spoke on the many demonstrations and protests at museums in New York, addressing lack of representation, mostly notably a protest at the Whitney Museum after the opening of a major modernist art exhibition that excluded female and black artists. Ringgold and Wallace were founding members of the National Black Feminist Organization in 1973. They also spoke of The People's Flag Show at the Judson Memorial Church in 1970. Ringgold and two others were arrested under Desecration of the Flag charges and later vindicated, a case important to the freedom of speech among artists. The show's title artwork is on display in We Wanted a Revolution. The two continue to share a fascinating dialogue on black feminism, activism, and art, both in their individual works and in conversation.
Next was the 'Black Radical Women Now!' panel discussion with filmmaker and founder of Just Above Midtown Gallery, Linda Goode Bryant, artist Maren Hassinger, filmmaker Barbara McCullough, and artist Senga Nengudi, moderated by Rujeko Hockley, Assistant Curator at the Whitney Museum and co-curator of We Wanted a Revolution. The artists shared a candid conversation on the importance of collaboration to their continued practices. It was Good Bryant who encouraged Nengudi to continue with her experimentation with pantyhose material, a signature aspect of her work. Hassinger participated in Nengudi's performances while McCullough documented them. McCullough spoke on the criticality of documentation and how that actually helped her see herself as an artist. "We have remained artists because we supported each other, emotionally, spiritually," stated Hassinger, who, along with her peers, are being recognized after 40 years of work in relative obscurity.
Another black LA artist working in the same circle, David Hammons, introduced McCullough's work to Good Bryant in New York during an unofficial residency at the Studio Museum. Good Bryant reflected on Just Above Midtown Gallery's experimental nature, one of the first spaces in New York that was available to black artists exhibiting their work. "We can use what we have to create what we need," she stated, a sentiment shared by the group. The artists also reflected on a recent trip to the Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum, a sprawling 10-acre installation created by LA artist, Noah Purifoy over the course of 15 years. Good Bryant spoke on the relevance of current curatorial practice and the outdated function of the museum and concepts of preservation. "Noah liberated my creative soul," she gushed, referring to his irreverence for the effects of nature on the outdoor installation. Hassinger, reflecting on the role of Museums as keepers of the past and, in contrast, artists as concerned with the future, stated that, "the idea of preservation should not be the artist' idea... there's no reason why any freedoms should be sacrificed."
The panel discussion was followed by a performance by Maren Hassinger of her celebrated piece, Women's Work. At that point, the audience broke out into small groups for the Radical Women Workshop, featuring Jae Jarrell and Dindga McCannon, two of the artists featured in the exhibition, along with local artists, Lili Bernard, April Bey, Adebukola Bodunrin, Zeal Harris, Tonya Ingram, Cole M. James, Nzinga Kadalie Kemp, Nicole Kelly, Jessica Wimbley, among others, moderated by independent curator and artist Chelle Barbour. A range of topics were discussed, such as artist-run spaces, collective practices, performance work, and feminist practice. The closing reception was DJ'd by DJ Scholar Lynnée Denise, who played a set of music written, performed or produced by black women between 1965 and 85.