Tour: 'We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85' at CAAM in LA
This past weekend marked the closing of We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85 at the California African American Museum in LA. To celebrate, the Museum held a Closing Symposium, inviting many of the artists featured in the exhibition, along with curators and local artists to lead a series of conversations and workshops.
The title wall of the exhibition features a large mural, For the Women’s House by Faith Ringgold, created in collaboration with the women of the Riker's Island Women's Prison. The exhibition, which explores the work of black women artists, places them squarely in the middle of the Civil Rights and Feminist Movements, both of which did not fully address the issues facing this community.
The show features several vibrantly-colored prints, a popular medium of the Black Arts Movement. A few prints used to advertise art shows and collectives associated with the Black Arts Movement are also on display. One such poster shows the members of AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists), formed in Chicago in 1968 and another presents the mostly male artist collective Weusi, formed in Harlem in 1965. Where We At Collective is an all women group that formed in Brooklyn in 1971 as a response to black female artists struggling with breaking into both the white-dominated downtown art scene and the male-dominated black arts scene. Out of this group came one of the first exhibitions devoted solely to professional black women artists, Where We At —Black Women Artists, 1971. Also on display is Flower Sniffer by Emma Amos, the youngest and only female member of NY collective Spiral. The importance of the artist collective as both support system and as a space to discuss the political significance of the work of black artists is a major component of the organization of the earlier works in this exhibition.
The exhibition features other important works by the older generation of black female artists working at the start of the Black Arts Movement, such as Faith Ringgold's stunning Early Works #25: Self-Portrait, 1965 which the artist has described as her attempt at finding her voice early on in her career. Elizabeth Catlett's bronze sculpture Target, 1970 is also featured and was created in response to the killing of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, two Black Panther activists, by Chicago Police in December 1969. A large and striking black patinated bronze and wool sculpture by Paris-based Barbara Chase-Riboud, Confessions for Myself, 1972 is featured nearby Betye Saar's famous The Liberation of Aunt Jemima: Cocktail, 1973, in an interesting juxtaposition of abstraction and a more sardonic commentary on the revolutionary aims of the Black Power Movement. Because of the efforts of Faith Ringgold and her daughters Michele and Barbara Wallace in protesting the lack of women and POC featured in the Whitney Museum's Annual Exhibition, Chase-Riboud, along with Betye Saar became the first black women to be featured in the Whitney Museum.
The exhibition expands into more abstraction and performance work, with Maren Hassinger's Leaning, 1980 and Senga Nengudi's nylon, mesh and rubber Inside/Outside, 1977, two artists known for their sculture and performance work and whose careers have been marked by collaboration. Image of Nengudi's performance pieces Rapunzel, 1981, taken by photographer Barbara McCullough, and Ceremony for Freeway Fets, 1978, featuring improvisation by Hassinger, Houston Conwill, David Hammons, and other, also speaks to this collaborative environment. Two large works by Virginia Jaramillo, inspired by Abstract Expressionist and Minimalist conversations, are featured here as well. Lorraine O'Grady's important Mlle Bourgeoise Noir Costume (1980), fabricated by 180 pairs of white gloves, is featured along with images of her first public performance as Miss Black Middle Class at the opening of an exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art.
The work of photographers Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems and Ming Smith are featured prominently in the exhibition, in their participation in critical discourse surrounding Postmodernsim and their examination of images and language in shaping, and misrepresenting, women and people of color. Filmmakers, dancers and performance artists, including Julie Dash, Blondell Cummings, and the Rodeo Caldonia High-Fidelity Performance Theater collective, are also featured, among others.
The exhibition also showcases work from an important exhibition, Dialectics of Isolation: An Exhibition of Third World Women, featuring eight women artists and curated by Ana Mendieta in 1980 at A.I.R. Gallery, the first all-women's artist's cooperative gallery. Included is Beverly Buchanan's Wall Column (1980), an important work of Land art which achieved an engagement with Post-Minimalism. The work was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1980s thanks to Curator Lowery Stokes Sims.
The exhibition successfully balanced the many diverse works on display, covering a span two decades, with a multitude of textual, multimedia and image documentation. Several display cases housed issues of Jet magazine and Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics, along with personal letter between artists, correspondences with galleries and museums, and newspaper clippings of exhibition reviews. The historical context is ever-present, and solidifies the significance of the occasions of which these important works were made as well as the imperative of archiving behind the creation of the exhibition. Fittingly, We Wanted a Revolution is accompanied by a Sourcebook in place of a catalogue, which features rare texts, manifestos, essays and interviews surrounding the works.
We Wanted a Revolution was curated by Catherine Morris, Sackler Family Senior Curator for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, and Rujeko Hockley, former Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum. It originally opened at the Brooklyn Museum last Spring and will be headed to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY and then the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, MA.