The Goodman Gallery, located in Cape Town, South Africa, is currently hosting an exhibition entitled “Faith Ringgold & Hank Willis Thomas: Freedom is Going Home“. This exhibition highlights an intergenerational dialogue between these two renowned artists and presents new works by Hank Willis Thomas in response to Faith Ringgold’s iconic works, such as her quilts, paintings and posters.
The exhibition is a first for both artists, who have committed themselves to a joint presentation. It testifies to their willingness to explore black histories and the desire for liberation across geographies, drawing visual references from both the United States and numerous African countries.
Faith Ringgold has been an influential cultural figure for over sixty years, and her work links personal experience with collective histories. Her commitment to civil rights and social justice is reflected in recent exhibitions such as “Faith Ringgold: American People” at the New Museum in New York in 2022, and “Faith Ringgold: Black is Beautiful” at the Musée National Picasso-Paris in 2023.
Hank Willis Thomas‘ artistic practice is also rooted in social justice. He interrogates media and historical archives through his work, incorporating symbols with political connotations. His collective project “For Freedoms“, launched in 2016 with other artists, academics and organizations, uses art and creativity as catalysts for transformative connection and collective liberation.
At the heart of the exhibition is Faith Ringgold’s “South African Love Story #2: Part I and II” (1985-87) – a diptych composed of a quilt that tells a romantic story of an estranged couple and their struggle for freedom that eventually brings them together. Created during a tumultuous period in South Africa’s history, the work highlights the country’s importance in the consciousness of American activists, and underlines the solidarity between the two sides of the Atlantic. Presented for the first time in nearly 40 years in South Africa, it forms a focal point of the exhibition.
The exhibition also features textile works from Faith Ringgold‘s series, such as “Windows of the Wedding” (1970) and “Dah” (1980), which combine abstract compositions with references to Tibetan and Kuba motifs from Central Africa.
Hank Willis Thomas draws on the African-American tradition of quilting, exemplified by the work of Faith Ringgold, as well as African-American solidarity in liberation struggles and the continent’s complex political history, to create his new quilts. By fragmenting and rearranging flags from African countries, the artist evokes the folk motifs of the American Underground Railroad, a network that helped slaves escape to freedom. The titles of his works are taken from famous speeches or quotes by pan-Africanist leaders.
Hank Willis Thomas‘s lenticulars, “I am You / I Am Joy” (2023) and “I am. Suis-je ? AM I ? I Am” (2023), interact with Faith Ringgold‘s collages from the 1970s. These collages feature phrases expressing black feminist sentiments drawn from the artist’s personal experiences. Hank Willis Thomas uses Faith Ringgold‘s typographic aesthetic and layout to evoke ideas of identity in a contemporary context. The lenticulars also reference the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, in particular the posters bearing the inscription “I AM A MAN“. By their very nature, these works force viewers to look again, reflecting the artist’s revisitation of this historic event and of protest art in general.
In addition to these works, the exhibition features two recent sculptures by Hank Willis Thomas: “All Power to All People” (bronze) (2023) and “Solidarity” (2023). These sculptures are part of a larger series exploring symbols of identity and empowerment.
The exhibition “Faith Ringgold & Hank Willis Thomas: Freedom is Going Home” offers South African visitors a unique opportunity to discover the artistic dialogue between these two major figures of contemporary African art. Exploring black histories and struggles for freedom across geographies, Faith Ringgold and Hank Willis Thomas offer profound reflections on identity, social justice and solidarity. Don’t miss this captivating exhibition at the Goodman Gallery until June 17, 2023.