© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Best known today for her story quilts addressing feminism and racial justice, Ringgold’s work of the 1960s and ’70s was more polemical. In Red White Black Nigger, Ringgold confronts the highly charged and topical subject of the role of blackness within American culture. Inspired in part by Jasper Johns’s flag paintings, Ringgold references the colors of the U.S. flag both linguistically and visually. She uses black pigment to modulate the work’s dominant red, white, and blue pigments, rather than mixing them with white as painters traditionally had done. Most pointedly, Ringgold painted the word “NIGGER” within each horizontal swath of color. This abhorrent, incendiary word evokes centuries of oppression and the violent reaction to the struggle for civil rights and the black power movement in the late 1960s. Yet against the darkened background, the word nearly disappears, a possible allusion to the white cultural erasure of African Americans and the pervasive stain of racism within the national fabric. Ringgold’s substitution of the word “black” in the third row, where one might expect the word “blue,” stops the viewer short and insists on recognition of this country’s inability to deliver on its promise of liberty for all.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
2014.18
People
Faith Ringgold, American (New York, New York born 1930)
Title
Black Light Series #8: Red White Black Nigger
Classification
Paintings
Work Type
painting
Date
1969
Culture
American
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
61 x 61 cm (24 x 24 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: on verso, in blue paint: 9 [number encircled] Nigger 24 x 24
Provenance
Faith Ringgold, created 1969, sold [through ACA Galleries, New York]; to the Harvard Art Museums, 2014.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Richard Norton Memorial Fund
Copyright
© Faith Ringgold
Accession Year
2014
Object Number
2014.18
Division
Modern and Contemporary Art
Contact
am_moderncontemporary@harvard.edu
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Publication History

Michele Wallace, American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold's Paintings on the 1960s, exh. cat., ed. Thom Collins and Tracy Fitzpatrick, Neuberger Museum of Art (Purchase, New York, 2010), p. 103, fig. 41, ill. (color)

Helen Molesworth, ed., Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, exh. cat., Skira Rizzoli Publications, Inc., New York (New York, 2016), p. 63, fig. 29, ill. (color)

Andrew Russeth, The Storyteller: At 85, Her Star Still Rising, Faith Ringgold Looks Back on Her Life in Art, Activism, and Education, ARTnews (New York, 2016), Vol. 115, No. 1, ill. (color)

Exhibition History

American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold's Paintings of the 1960s, Neuberger Museum of Art, 09/11/2010 - 12/19/2010

32Q: 1100 60’s Experiment, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014 - 09/26/2017

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art at am_moderncontemporary@harvard.edu