March 2 Art Minute: Elizabeth Catlett, Head of a Young Woman
“I have always wanted my art to service my people—to reflect us, to relate to us, to stimulate us, to make us aware of our potential. We have to create an art for liberation and for life.”
Created the year Elizabeth Catlett moved to Mexico City, where she would spend most of her career, this sculpture elegantly expresses Catlett’s interest in representing the human figure in a straightforward, powerful manner. The simplification and stylization of the head reflect both the prevailing modernist aesthetic of the mid-20th century and Catlett’s interest in African and pre-Columbian art.
Throughout her long career, Catlett’s work has celebrated both famous forebears in African American history and unsung people of color—her family and friends, Mexican and African American laborers, the poor, and the politically oppressed. It was in these ordinary people and their struggles and dreams that she found the most beauty and inspiration, as revealed in this striking portrait, which is at once personal and universal.
Elizabeth Catlett (American, 1915-2012), Head of a Young Woman. Grit-tempered clay, about 1947. Gift of Florence Scott Libbey, by exchange, 2006.145