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This Necessary New Exhibition Highlights the Activism of Black Female Artists
Rujeko Hockley, co-curator of 'We Wanted a Revolution,' talks about its surprising resonance.
The Brooklyn Museum's latest exhibition, We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85, is dedicated to female artists of color, and their political and social efforts during second-wave feminism.
Catherine Morris, the Sackler Family Senior Curator for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, and Rujeko Hockley, an Assistant Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art (formerly Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum), selected critical works from over 40 artists, which range from painting to photography, film, sculpture, and performance, by artists including Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, and Faith Ringgold. We Wanted a Revolution shines a light on the artist-activists of color working outside of the dominant white, middle-class feminist narrative. It is the first major museum exhibition to focus specifically on black female artists from that era.
We spoke to co-curator Hockley about the weight, necessity, and relevance of We Wanted a Revolution.
'We Wanted a Revolution' is important on so many levels, but one key point is that we see the roots of inclusive feminism. How did you shape this exhibit?
The first conversations that Catherine Morris and I had about what would become We Wanted a Revolution happened in early 2014. In the lead-up to A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism at the Brooklyn Museum, we began a series of conversations amongst ourselves and our colleagues about the connections (or disconnections) between women of color and both mainstream feminism and the Black Power movement, activism in and out of the art world, art history, and the Brooklyn Museum itself.
We realized that there was an exciting, and necessary, exhibition in there—or several! From the beginning, we were crystal clear on the absolute necessity of centering the work and experiences of women of color. We were led by them: black women artists, activists, curators, art historians, and writers who have been doing this work and making these arguments at least since the 1960s, when the exhibition starts, but I would argue long before that, and continuing into the present as well.
Faith Ringgold is a cornerstone of the exhibition—several of her works appear, including 'For the Women's House.' Can you talk about her role in and impact on black feminism?
Beyond her incredible work and long career, one of the reasons for her strong presence in We Wanted a Revolution is her simultaneous commitment to art, feminism, and social justice. Ringgold is one of the few artists included in the exhibition who aligned herself with the mainstream feminist movement, though she, like other black women, often found it lacking, and identified more pointedly as a black feminist.
Ringgold pops up in multiple places in the exhibition, from her early self-portraiture in the 1960s, to her co-founding, along with Kay Brown and Dindga McCannon, of the Where We At Black Women Artists collective in 1971; to her activism both in and out of the art world, including being one of the infamous "Judson Three," who were charged with desecration of the U.S. flag following a 1970 performance at New York's Judson Memorial Church (in which a flag was burned); to the pages of Ms. Magazine, in a 1979 article written by her daughter Michele Wallace.
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