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

This video was excerpted from our monthly #ArtSpeaks program, in which museum staff share their personal impressions of artworks in the galleries.

There was a lot of spontaneous rioting and fighting in the street and undocumented killings of African-American people, and great racism. Everybody knew. Everybody talked about it, but I would never see anything about it on television—nothing. How could I, as an African-American woman artist, document what was happening all around me?
—Faith Ringgold

Although Faith Ringgold began her American People Series in 1963, it can be hard to separate the vision conveyed in this gruesome painting from media coverage of today’s murders of Black people, and the subsequent uprisings. While the painting is challenging on many levels, when we take a step back and consider Ringgold’s prolific career, the beauty in the artist’s work comes from the vibrancy with which she captures the Black American experience. In Ringgold’s paintings and quilts, Black people can be seen flying, singing, gardening, and dancing. Capturing Blackness in its totality, Ringgold also created this mural of racialized violence.

With a radical accuracy that the artist has described as “super real,” she thrusts the viewer into her experience and that of her community. The social injustice and racial tensions inherent in America are the framework from which Ringgold weaves the tapestry of Die. In this #ArtSpeaks, former curatorial fellow Mia Matthias discusses how no one in Ringgold’s painting is safe from the gore of white supremacy and social inequality, and how the painting acts as an archive of Ringgold’s experience, a call to action, and an eerie prophecy of today.

Every time I see one of those big riots in the street here today, I think back to Die.

Faith Ringgold

Listen to audio of the artist discussing American People Series #20: Die.