A New Exhibition Shows How Black Women Challenged the Art World

3 minute read

We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85 is a new show at the Brooklyn Museum featuring more than 40 artists, including Carrie Mae Weems, Howardena Pindell and Faith Ringgold, to highlight the work of black women who were at the crossroads of the Civil Rights, Black Power and Women’s Movements during that 20-year period.

For Catherine Morris, the senior curator for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, the goal of the exhibition is to offer the public “a new understanding of the complexity of history,” as well as showcase some new artists that “they hadn’t known or hadn’t seen before,” she tells TIME.

The mixed media exhibit features art of various mediums, from photography to performance and sculpture to video art. Morris outlines that this time between the mid-1960s to mid-1980s was not only a time that various social movements expressed their voices, but that it was also a time that artists challenged traditional ways of making art.

By including these different art forms, the message of race and feminism that is explored through the work is brought into a bolder light. Morris emphasizes that the “known and unknown” factor regarding these artists and the predominately white mainstream becomes part of the conversation, especially after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. “An exhibition like this is years in the making, so over the course of producing the exhibition, the pertinence and necessity of it seems to have only increased,” says Morris, “It certainly speaks to the need people have to talk about the contributions black women have made to our culture.”

We Wanted a Revolution is part of A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism at the Brooklyn Museum, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, which is meant to educate people about feminist art and raise awareness of its cultural offerings in a positive learning environment. In 2016, The New York Times noted that a surge of all-women art exhibits were on the rise, with a number of museums bringing much-needed attention to art made by women. “The Brooklyn Museum has a very longstanding commitment to thinking about art as a social motivator, as well as being a cultural touchstone,” says Morris, “So this is an exhibition that completely fits into this institution’s ongoing interest in thinking about ways of expanding the canon of art history.”

Carrie Mae Weems (American, born 1953). Family Reunion, 1978ñ84. Gelatin silver print, 30 x 40 in. (framed). Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. © Carrie Mae Weems
Carrie Mae Weems, Family Reunion, 1978-84. Carrie Mae Weems
Jan van Raay (American, born 1942). Faith Ringgold (right) and Michele Wallace (middle) at Art Workers Coalition Protest, Whitney Museum, 1971. Digital C-print. Courtesy of Jan van Raay, Portland, OR, 305-37. © Jan van Raay
Faith Ringgold, right, and Michele Wallace, center, at Art Workers Coalition Protest at the Whitney Museum in New York City, 1971. Jan van Raay
Howardena Pindell (American, born 1930). Still from Free, White and 21, 1980. Video, 12 min.15 sec. Courtesy of the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York. © Howardena Pindell
Still from Free, White and 21, 1980. Howardena Pindell
Howardena Pindell (American, born 1943). Installation view of Free, White and 21, 1980. In Dialectics of Isolation: An Exhibition of Third World Women Artists of the United States, A.I.R. Gallery (September 2ñ20, 1980). 12 min.15 sec. Courtesy of the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York
Installation view of Free, White and 21, in Dialectics of Isolation: An Exhibition of Third World Women Artists of the United States, in 1980.Howardena Pindell
Where We At Collective. Cookin' and Smokin', 1972. Offset printed poster, 14 ◊ 11 in. (35.6 ◊ 27.9 cm). Collection of David Lusenhop. Photo courtesy of Dindga McCannon Archives, Philadelphia, PA. © Dindga McCannon. (Photo: David Lusenhop)
Poster of Where We At Collective, Cookin' and Smokin', 1972. Dindga McCannon
Emma Amos (America, born 1938). Sandy and Her Husband, 1973. Oil on canvas, 44º x 50º in. (112.4 x 127.6 cm). Courtesy of Emma Amos. © Emma Amos; courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE, New York. Licensed by VAGA, New York. The final reproduced image is to be in no way altered from the original. This includes cropping or overlaying text.
Emma Amos Sandy and Her Husband, 1973. Emma Amos
Lona Foote (American, 1948ñ1993). Blondell Cummings performing ìBlind Datesî at Just Above Midtown Gallery, November 1982, 1982. Photograph, 10 x 8 in. (25.4 x 20.3 cm). Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries. © Estate of Lona Foote, courtesy of Howard Mandel
Lona Foote, Blondell Cummings performing "Blind Dates" at Just Above Midtown Gallery, 1982. Estate of Lona Foote
Lorna Simpson (American, born 1960). Waterbearer, 1986. Gelatin silver print with vinyl lettering, 59 × 80 × 2¼ in. (149.9 × 203.2 × 5.7 cm). Courtesy of Lorna Simpson. © 1986 Lorna SimpsonAny reproduction of the Work must not have any image, text, etc. superimposed over it, nor may the Work be reproduced on colored stock, nor shall it be reproduced in part, nor combined with work by others. All artworks must be reproduced in FULL COLOR.
Lorna Simpson, Waterbearer, 1986. Lorna Simpson
Lorraine O’Grady (American, born 1934). Mlle Bourgeoise Noire Goes to the New Museum, 1981. Performed at the New Museum, New York. Gelatin silver print, 9 ¼  x 7 in. (23.6 x 17.8 cm). Courtesy of Alexander Gray Associates.  © 2017 Lorraine O’Grady / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Lorraine O’Grady, Mlle Bourgeoise Noire Goes to the New Museum, 1981. Lorraine O’Grady/Artists Rights Society, New York
Faith Ringgold (American, born 1930). For the Women’s House, 1971. Oil on canvas, 96 x 96 in. (243.8 x 243.8 cm). Courtesy of Rose M. Singer Center, Rikers Island Correctional Center. © 2017 Faith Ringgold / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New YorkThe entire Work is to be reproduced without cropping.
Faith Ringgold, For the Women’s House, 1971. Faith Ringgold/Artists Rights Society

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