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March 9 Art Minute: Faith Ringgold, Ben

 Faith Ringgold (American, born 1930), Ben. Soft sculpture, mixed media, about 1978. Gift of Barbara Sunderman Hoerner, 2012.12
Faith Ringgold (American, born 1930), Ben. Soft sculpture, mixed media, about 1978. Gift of Barbara Sunderman Hoerner, 2012.12

Faith Ringgold's art reflects her status as a strong activist and black feminist. Born, raised, and educated in Harlem, Ringgold began her artistic career as a painter but her work has gone on to include performance art, social realism, soft sculpture, children’s books, and painted Story Quilts—art that combines painting, quilted fabric and storytelling.

Ben is related to the 'soft-sculpture' movement that was popularized in the 1960s by such artists as Claes Oldenberg, Annette Messager, and Hans Bellmer; however Ringgold's work is infused with socio/economic/racial undertones generally not present in other artist's work. Using the cross cultural and generational traditions of woman’s fabric work and storytelling, Ringgold has produced, in works like Ben, art that blends social commentary with a flokart sensibility creating a powerful yet approachable aesthetic.

The sculpture represents a ‘street’ person or beggar wearing a ‘Hawaiian’ shirt. Racial and socio/economic stereotypes abound as the figure holds a bottle of liquor in one hand while the other hand cups a number of coins. Numerous socio/political buttons and patches, in particular, patches and insignia suggesting military service, cover the front of the figure. A string of keys (perhaps signifying a false sense of belonging?) hangs from a twisted wire affixed to a neck chain; while a crucifix, a symbol of redemption, hangs from a second chain.

Faith Ringgold (American, born 1930), Ben. Soft sculpture, mixed media, about 1978. Gift of Barbara Sunderman Hoerner, 2012.12