Faith Ringgold. American People Series #20: Die. 1967 4860

Oil on canvas, two panels, 72 × 144" (182.9 × 365.8 cm). Acquired through the generosity of The Modern Women's Fund, Ronnie F. Heyman, Glenn and Eva Dubin, Lonti Ebers, Michael S. Ovitz, Daniel and Brett Sundheim, and Gary and Karen Winnick

Faith Ringgold: Hello. My name is Faith Ringgold, and we're looking at my work, American People Series No. 20: Die, painted in 1967. There was a lot of spontaneous rioting and fighting in the street and undocumented killings of African-American people, and great racism. It was amazing what was happening. Everybody knew. Everybody talked about it, but I would never see anything about it on television—nothing.

I became fascinated with the ability of art to document the time, place, and cultural identity of the artist. How could I, as an African-American woman artist, document what was happening all around me? I wanted to show a kind of abstraction of what the fights were really all about. And they had a lot to do with race and class, and no one was left out.

So you can see they're all dressed in business suits, and they're all hooty-dooty. But they're fighting for their position in life in America to be retained. And then there's people who have already attacked somebody, and they're trying to beat them down. And then there's people looking for somebody, running after each other and screaming and carrying on against that background.

And those squares really represent the sidewalk, which basically was always the background of a riot because everybody is going to fall on the ground. Having women with children there was very important because women are going to protect their children no matter what. These children, they're in the center, they gravitate toward each other. They don't know each other, but they're going to try to help each other. They are the innocent victims here.

I was able to tell the story and not be limited by what it was. I had the courage to go ahead and speak out. This was going on then; it's happening again now. And every time I see one of those big riots in the street here today, I think back to Die.

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