This is Ringgold’s first story quilt and the first quilt project she made by herself, without the help of her mother, who died the previous year. Squares along the borders depict African American women of varying ages from all walks of life, and the squares in the center depict a variety of different people, each connected to a block of text that tell some part of Aunt Jemima’s story. The center square resembles a book title page and declares the piece a “quilt book.”
As Michele Wallace, the artist’s daughter and art critic, has noted, the work answers the question “what are we (as black women) supposed to do with our lives and how are we supposed to do it?” Ringgold contradicts a common stereotype of an African American woman by here recasting Aunt Jemima as a successful businesswoman and notes that the work is also “a feminist statement about the stereotype of black women as fat. Aunt Jemima conveys the same negative connotation as Uncle Tom, simply because of her looks.” By focusing on a heroic matriarch, Ringgold also connects to Aunt Jemima’s story her own success in overcoming the stereotypes she faced as an African American woman and artist.
Acrylic on canvas, dyed, painted and pieced fabric – Private collection
The Liberation of Aunt Jemima: an assemblage that repositions a derogatory figurine, a product of America’s deep-seated history of racism, as an armed warrior. It’s become both Saar’s most iconic piece and a symbol of black liberation and radical feminist art—one which legendary Civil Rights activist Angela Davis would later credit with launching the black women’s movement.
One of the most controversial African-American artists working today, Renee Cox has used her own body, both nude and clothed, to celebrate black womanhood and criticize our racist and sexist society.
She was born on October 16, 1960, in Colgate, Jamaica and later moved with her family to Scarsdale, New York. Cox began studying photography at Syracuse University and received her master’s degree at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. After completing her MFA, Cox participated in the year-long Whitney Independent Study program.
From the very beginning, her work showed a deep concern for social issues. In her first one-woman show at a New York gallery in 1998, Cox created superhero named Raje who led a crusade in trying to overturn stereotypes such as in the piece “The Liberation of Lady J and UB,” where Raje leads Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben to liberation from their boxes.