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Women and Migration

 | 
Deborah Willis
, 
Ellyn Toscano
, 
Kalia Brooks Nelson

Part three. Understanding pathways

15. Swimming with E. C.

Kellie Jones

Texte intégral

  • 1 In honor of curatorial generations, Samella Lewis, Lowery Stokes Sims, Rujeko Hockley, and all the (...)

1Sara Ahmed opens her book Living a Feminist Life (2017) thinking about the myriad of feminist stories and multiple ways of approaching feminist narratives. But she also hears them, asking ‘When did the sound of the word feminism become your sound?’1 Starting with the 1970s, offering us perhaps the best known works by the artist Elizabeth Catlett. This essay works back in search of the beginnings of E. C.’s feminist ‘sound’ or calling, one that seems to have been initiated at her very birth and even earlier, by female ancestors who offered a Black radical inheritance. For now we begin with the importance of 1971.

Tijuana, 1971

  • 2 Karen Anne Mason, interview with Alonzo Davis, African-American Artists of Los Angeles: Oral Histo (...)

2Early in 1971 artist and gallerist Alonzo Davis found himself driving to Mexico and loading art into his van in Tijuana for a return trip to Los Angeles and to Brockman Gallery. He and his brother, Dale Brockman Davis, had opened the gallery barely four years earlier as a place to showcase works by African-American artists. After initially presenting group exhibitions, they started offering solo shows in 1970. The majestic Elizabeth Catlett (1915–2012) — born in the United States, but long resident in Mexico — was most probably the first woman artist they presented in a one-artist exhibition. With her reputation and accomplishments, this was certainly a catch for an upstart gallery showing many young and lesser-known artists.2

  • 3 For more on Betye Saar with regard to these issues, see Kellie Jones, South of Pico, African Ameri (...)

3The Brockman Gallery exhibition was Elizabeth Catlett’s first solo show in the US in over two decades. A lot had changed since she presented her early work at the Black-owned Barnett-Aden Gallery in Washington, D.C., in 1947. But then, a lot hadn’t. African Americans still fought for recognition in the art world. However, actions in the 1960s and 1970s were changing that. Still, such scattered exhibition histories plagued women artists, even as the feminist decade of the 1970s came into its own. This was the case with Betye Saar (b. 1926), whose star also began to shine brighter in this period; she was featured in article after article, which also commented on the older ages of successful women artists, remarking on their perseverance. As with Saar, the 1970s became Catlett’s breakout decade, buoyed by the Black Arts Movement and carried by a tide of feminist activism, though Catlett herself was a decade older than Saar.3

  • 4 Richard J. Powell, ‘Face to Face: Elizabeth Catlett’s Graphic Work,’ in Jeanne Zeidler (ed.), Eliz (...)
  • 5 Catlett collaborated with Marie Johnson and San Jose State College around the Freedom for Angela D (...)

4While Catlett’s return to exhibiting in the US and in the solo format began at the Brockman Gallery in 1971, that wasn’t the only show she had that year. In fact, an exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem — an ‘artistic homecoming’ according to art historian Richard J. Powell — has dominated Catlett’s narrative.4 Opening at the end of 1971 and continuing into 1972, it was an expansion of the Brockman show, similarly encompassing prints and sculpture. She would have no fewer than eight solo shows in the US through 1975. Key support came from other African-American-focused exhibition spaces (Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, Boston; Atlanta Center for Black Art), from her alma mater (Howard University), and from the historically Black college and university circuit (Fisk University, Southern University, Jackson State College). In addition, we also find a strong link to the thriving California art scene of the 1970s and to networks of women. Scripps College in Claremont, California, was one site, where Samella Lewis (a former student of Catlett’s) taught, providing a perch from which she created all manner of exhibitions, films, and publications. Further north, another solo show opened at Berkeley’s Rainbow Sign Gallery, where E. J. Montgomery was in charge. Even earlier, Catlett had participated in absentia in the series ‘The Black Arts Today’ (1969) at San Jose State College, where a former student of Lewis’s, Marie Johnson, was a member of the faculty, eventually becoming chair of the art department.5

5With all the effort it took to get these works to the US and on view after two decades in Mexico, it is not surprising that Catlett set her prices at a point to encourage their sale; indeed all the pieces would remain in the US. It is undoubtedly during this period that major works, which now inform our understanding of the 1960s and 1970s, entered the US and became part of the art-historical narrative, including the three earliest works by Catlett in the We Wanted a Revolution exhibition: Homage to My Young Black Sisters (1968), Malcolm X Speaks for Us (1969) and Target (1970).

6Though Catlett resided in Mexico for most of her adult life in the late 1960s, inspired by Black activism of the period, she began to center her work on the African-American activist body. Although the artist noted that she reserved her print production for the exploration of political themes and that her sculptural work was dedicated to investigating form, those decisions changed somewhat as she began to focus on events in her country of birth. In sculptures from this time, Catlett meshes her understanding of the needs of form with those of political efficacy. And as with her sculpture throughout her career, these ideas are narrated predominately through figures of Black women.

  • 6 Elizabeth Catlett, quoted in Samella Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett (Claremont, CA: Hancraft (...)
  • 7 Samella Lewis calls this form ‘embryo-like’; see Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, p. 162. See (...)

7Homage to My Young Black Sisters (1968) is an excellent example of Catlett’s genius in marshaling representational aims through figures that are abstracted. The verticality and strength of the body are emphasized by a fist shot straight up, the very pinnacle of the sculpture. As in the majority of her sculpted women, indications of a skirt, broad hips, and ample breasts emphasize the femaleness of her content. Adept in imagining figures in clay, stone, and wood, she crafted Homage to My Young Black Sisters from cedar. Catlett amplifies the qualities of the natural material, using its sensuousness and configuration as her guide, burnishing the wood to enhance the optical qualities of the grain.6 As scholars have argued, the central ovoid opening in the piece signals fecundity — appearing womblike — but also the core energy force of all beings.7 The political message of Catlett’s work is borne by several sculptures of the Black female form in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including the exquisite Political Prisoner (1971; now in the collection of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture), whose torso becomes the flag of Black liberation.

  • 8 Elizabeth Catlett artist statement in Samella S. Lewis and Ruth G. Waddy (eds.), Black Artists on (...)

8Thus, at the dawn of the 1970s Elizabeth Catlett stepped into her role as the reigning queen of the Black Arts Movement. For her, art in the late twentieth century was about liberation, survival, and communication, using creative methods that, as she noted, ‘help me make my message clearer.’8 As she would throughout her career, she framed her audience as the everyday working class, the majority of hardworking people worldwide, to whom artists were in service.

  • 9 Sims, ‘Elizabeth Catlett,’ pp. 21‒22. See also Frieda High W. Tesfagiorgis, ‘Afrofemcentrism and i (...)
  • 10 Elizabeth Catlett, quoted in Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, p. 102.

9Several pieces from this late-twentieth-century period explore the violence visited on Black bodies, referring to aspects of daily life and state suppression as people battled for civil and human rights. Target (1970) is a concise statement of this situation, in which the artist crafts a Black male head in bronze, the crosshairs of a gun sight hovering before his face. Yet Catlett never relinquished her feminist perspective. For instance, the hand-colored lithograph The Torture of Mothers from the same year views an incident akin to that of Target from inside the mind of a woman imagining the possible death of her son. In the linocut Malcolm X Speaks for Us (1969), women and girls frame the radical’s face, providing a feminist context for his activism. Catlett’s female-centered imagery at the height of the Black Arts Movement offered an embodied and intersectional perspective that insisted on acknowledging the full range of women’s lives inflected by race, class, and gender. The artist privileged an activist primary subject and centralized ‘“women’ s self-recorded realities.”’9 Catlett, indeed, always considered herself a feminist, yet one defined outside the narrow constructs often associated with its second wave, and instead more broadly interested in women’s liberation, fulfillment, and ability ‘to enrich the world, humanity.’10

10Across her lifetime Catlett addressed such issues in her copious objects but also through her intellectual acuity, which was evident in significant articles she published over the years. In writings from the 1960s and 1970s we see her, like so many others in this period, thinking about the role of Black artists and their art: what should their priorities be; how should they balance form and content? She was also capacious in her understanding of what art could be. Writing in 1975 she proposed that

  • 11 Elizabeth Catlett, ‘The Role of the Black Artist,’ The Black Scholar, 6:9 (1975), 10–14 (p. 13).

[art] does not need revolution as its subject in order to be revolutionary. Up to now it has had little effect on political or social revolution. It will not create authentic social change, but it can provoke thought and prepare us for change, even helping in its achievement. For art can tell us what we do not see consciously, what we may not realize, and that there are other ways of seeing things […]11

  • 12 Elizabeth Catlett, ‘The Negro People and American Art,’ Freedomways, 1:1 (1961), 78.

11Catlett reminded us that Blackness was also part of the larger world, something she learned from residing in a place just outside US borders; something she came to know by adopting a home place and creating a family in Mexico. We thus recall not only the proximity of Mexico but also its significance in African-American history, as a place of refuge and imagination, and as part of an important transnational network. As a bilingual and bicultural artist, at the opening of the 1960s, Catlett encouraged Black artists to ‘broaden our horizons.’12 Along with reaching out to Latino populations and the feminist movement within the US, African Americans should seek common ground around the globe.

  • 13 Catlett, ‘The Role of the Black Artist,’ p. 14.

Culture can be a beginning for our involvement with other peoples who share with us racial or national discrimination and exploitation by a common enemy. Today it is difficult to wrap ourselves in ‘Blackness,’ ignoring the rest of exploited humanity for we are an integral part of it. Blackness is important as a part of the struggle — it is our part — not only of Blacks in the US, Africa and the Caribbean, but of Chicanos and Puerto Ricans in the US, and the peoples of Asia and Latin America exemplified at the moment by the Chileans and Vietnamese.13

Mexico City, 1947

  • 14 Catlett divorced African-American artist Charles White and married the Mexican artist Francisco Mo (...)

12In a testament to the power of women, and to the tenacity and focus required to will a creative career into existence, in 1946–47 Elizabeth Catlett accomplished the following: after less than a year in Mexico she returned to her hometown of Washington, D.C.; got a divorce; married for a second time, to a feminist (Francisco Mora, eight years her junior); gave birth to her first child; had a solo show at Washington, D.C.’s Barnett-Aden Gallery; and returned to Mexico City.14

  • 15 See Jones, South of Pico, pp. 50‒56. Saar had three daughters, while Catlett had three sons. All o (...)
  • 16 ‘Interview of Elizabeth Catlett by Glory Van Scott,’ p. 4.

13For much of the next decade, while her children were young, she focused on printmaking. Like Betye Saar, she found the print medium more user-friendly with babies underfoot.15 She also worked collectively, finding support in the renowned Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP; Popular or People’s Graphic Workshop). From its founding in the 1930s, like Mexico’s better-known mural movement, the goal of TGP was to make art available to the country’s citizens. As part of the nation’s institutional revolution, TGP created things that were useful in people’s lives, such as posters for literacy and flyers for workers. The workshop attracted people from all over the world who came to participate and study, including Catlett in 1946. She found facilities to work, and thrived with the sustenance of the collective: its weekly meetings, critiques, shared projects, and mission. Through TGP she learned the importance of political content joined with form. She discovered that she wanted to direct her ‘art towards […] the main mass of people.’16

  • 17 Catlett had studied with Zuñiga at La Esmeralda in 1946; Herzog, Elizabeth Catlett, pp. 66‒69, 71.

14Like Saar, who moved on to a broader assemblage practice once her children were older, Catlett returned to sculpture when her youngest son entered kindergarten in the 1950s. She had perfected her practice in clay in Mexico, studying with Francisco Zuñiga at La Esmeralda (Escuela Nacional de Pintura, Escultura y Grabado; National School of Painting, Sculpture and Printmaking) in 1946 and utilizing the coil technique. She had cast in bronze and done sporadic work with stone. Now she added wood carving, returning to La Esmeralda to work with José L. Ruiz.17

  • 18 Ibid., pp. 34‒36.

15Yet Catlett’s themes remained remarkably consistent over time: celebrations of women — their power, their politics, their bodies, the bond with their children. Rarely working from models, she employed a technique learned from art educator Viktor Lowenfeld while she was in residence at Hampton University in the early 1940s. It involved imagining structure from inside her own body; how did this movement, pose, or angle feel from the interiors of her own being?18

  • 19 Tina M. Campt, Image Matters, Archive, Photography, and the African Diaspora in Europe (Durham: Du (...)

16Scholar Tina Campt’s discussion of the haptic nature of photographic practice can be easily applied to Catlett’s working method. A constellation of ideas relating to the sense of touch constitute the haptic. Through physical touch we understand the tactility of things; with indexical touch we absorb the contextual framing of the Black female body as sign; and affective touch describes how an object stirs us emotionally. In Campt’s view the haptic also signals our own modes of perception, how we as viewers connect to an object. What are our responses to the encounter with Catlett’s sculpture? Catlett’s own sense of the haptic also comes from within. As a champion swimmer and lifeguard, she would have had intricate knowledge of human movement and power, feeling for the body in space, its mass, its weight (and weightlessness in water), which could be translated into sculpture.19

  • 20 Elizabeth Catlett quoted in Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, 95, 93. Campt, Image Matters, 32‒ (...)

17As Campt explains, these expanded notions of the haptic often exist in tension with actual touch. To this we can add the nodes of friction (and balance) that the artist recognized between figuration and abstraction, and the requirements for the solitary of the making life against the solidarity of working ‘with and for others,’ in which Catlett was so very invested.20

  • 21 Judith Wilson, ‘Getting Down to Get Over: Romare Bearden’s Use of Pornography and the Problem of t (...)
  • 22 Herzog, Elizabeth Catlett, p. 21.

18Catlett’s sculpture from the 1950s and 1960s is replete with elegant, vibrant figures. Consider her bronze Figure (1961), or her Seated Woman (1962) and Mujer (1964), both in mahogany. All signal the embodiment of women, with ample hips and bosoms, along with Catlett’s signature spiraling and draped skirt that emphasizes the lower regions but also gives the figures a gracious femininity. Clothing here is mere suggestion, allowing her to focus on the contours of the body without creating a nude. For, given the vulnerability and exploitation of Black bodies throughout world history, nakedness continued to be a conflicted subject in the art of African Americans.21 As art historian Melanie Anne Herzog suggests, the artist offered nothing less than ‘a pioneering reclamation’ of bodies and beings that were both Black and female.22

  • 23 Michael Brenson, ‘Elizabeth Catlett’s Sculptural Aesthetics,’ in Gedeon (ed.), Elizabeth Catlett S (...)
  • 24 Ibid., pp. 28–29.
  • 25 Sims, ‘Elizabeth Catlett,’ p. 11.
  • 26 Powell, ‘Face to Face,’ p. 51.

19Michael Brenson describes Catlett’s figures as ‘modestly dressed’ and as such ‘unmarked by covetousness, envy, anger, gluttony or any of the other seven deadly sins they have clearly encountered in the world around them.’23 Such imaginative properties of the sculpture find continuity in formal ones for Brenson, in which Catlett’s sculptural surfaces seek and are ‘touched and tended by light,’ and exquisitely maneuver the play of positive and negative space.24 For Lowery Stokes Sims, Catlett’s ‘figurative style inflected by abstraction,’ making conscious use of African and pre-Columbian forms, is nothing less than heroic.25 Richard Powell reminds us that Catlett’s insistence on forwarding Black and brown standards of beauty and aesthetics had an ‘emotional depth,’ and arrived at a crucial time in Black diaspora history (1940s‒1970s) and was thus significant in ‘race pride and ideology.’26

20Other sculpture reimagined the classically Western, overwhelmingly biblical, but also truly global theme of a mother with her offspring. Two examples evince Catlett’s explorations and range. Mother and Child (1956), in terracotta, turns on rounded, organic forms and naturalistic rendering. A later Mother and Child (1959), hewn from mahogany, is angular and abstracted, gleaming with the polished surface that would continue to mark the artist’s works in wood.

  • 27 For more on Chicago’s American Negro Exposition of 1940, see Adam Green, Selling the Race: Culture (...)

21However, we should remember that the centering of the female form, being, and intellect went back to the very beginning of Catlett’s oeuvre. We see it in Pensive (1946), a woman in bronze hugging her body and communing with her thoughts — her blouse a sheer layer revealing the feminine form, whose sleeves provide a spiraling pattern that the artist would eventually apply to womanly hips, bringing it to life as a skirt. And it was her earliest Mother and Child (1940) that won Catlett the first prize in sculpture at Chicago’s American Negro Exposition in 1940. Already we see Catlett’s draped skirt on view. (The work’s rounded naturalism would be echoed in Catlett’s 1956 terracotta). Created in limestone and most probably her first work in stone, its location is currently unknown.27

  • 28 Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, p. 163.

22While imaging a body that bespeaks African American history and heritage, the artist also thought about the people of her adopted home. They appear in both her own prints and those created with the collective TGP, and show up in sculpture, too. If pieces such as Figure (1961), Seated Woman (1962), and Mujer (1964) refer to a Black female body, others such as the seated Rebozo (1957) and the bust Rebozo (1968), both in limestone, developed an iconic Mexican (and perhaps more specifically indigenous) feminine profile.28 These appear slightly more abstract than her other figures, with the shawl-like rebozo enveloping, rather than emphasizing, bodily curves. Draping, though, continues to play a significant role.

  • 29 Herzog, Elizabeth Catlett, p. 79. See also ‘Interview of Elizabeth Catlett by Camille Billops,’ pp (...)

23Catlett returned to the US only once per decade during this period, visiting in 1954 and again in 1961. Her commitment to raising three small children, the financial and other burdens of international travel, and eventually her responsibilities as a professor (and chair of sculpture) at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas in the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, made such trips an understandable challenge. There were also Cold War politics at play. McCarthyism reached across the border into Mexico, where the government took a more conservative turn. Catlett was harassed by US authorities during the 1950s. This tense situation built to a terrifying pitch in 1959 when one night, home alone with her children, she was spirited away to jail as a ‘foreign agitator’. Given this state of affairs, Catlett eventually became a Mexican citizen, in 1962. However, she was then prevented from returning to the US for a decade, labeled an ‘undesirable alien’ in the country of her birth.29

24In Mexico, Catlett had her first solo show, in 1962, a mix of sculpture and prints that would continue to characterize her one-artist shows. Several years later another exhibition featured more monumental works, the result of greater studio space afforded by her position as a university professor. Held at Mexico City’s Museo de Arte Moderno in 1970, Experiencia negra foregrounded a politicized Black experience responding to the era of Black Power. Indeed, a list in the exhibition brochure confirms that a number of works that have shaped our understanding of Catlett’s Black activist oeuvre were first shown in Mexico: prints such as The Torture of Mothers (1970); Malcolm X Speaks for Us (1969); Watts/Detroit/Washington/Harlem/Newark (1970), and of course the series Negro es Bello (Black Is Beautiful) (1968–69) along with sculptures such as Homage to My Young Black Sisters (1968) and The Black Woman Speaks (1970).

  • 30 Raquel Tibol, Experiencia negra: Escultura y grabado de Elizabeth Catlett, exh. cat. (Mexico City: (...)

25Critic Raquel Tibol quotes the artist extensively in her Experienca negra brochure text. Finding beauty in ‘dirty’ (sucio) materials, and always in search of forms that can best express an idea, these images offer a petition against Black death, against yet another generation of African Americans in the 1960s and 1970s, young and beautiful, becoming victims of inhumane repression, who are being killed for simply wanting to feed and educate their children. For Catlett the display demonstrated to a Mexican public contemporary African-American life. She created what she understood as a total experience by having jazz played throughout the installation and attending the opening in African finery. Translated easily into English as ‘Black Experience,’ the Spanish exhibition title could be read as gendered. The word (la) experiencia uses a feminine declension, requiring negra (as opposed to negro), meaning Black woman. Certainly this was not lost on Catlett.30

26Both the content and the emphasis of Experiencia negra led to Catlett’s many solo shows in the US in the first half of the 1970s. She was finally allowed back into the land of her birth in 1971, for her New York museum opening, but only after vigorous work on her behalf by the director of the Studio Museum in Harlem Edward Spriggs, writer Elton Fax, artist Romare Bearden (1911–1988), and numerous others, and after she had provided a detailed itinerary. As she would recount to Tibol in the pages of the Mexican daily Excelsior:

  • 31 Raquel Tibol, quoted in Herzog, Elizabeth Catlett, pp. 148‒49. On Catlett’s 1971 visa problems, se (...)

It’s true, from the legal point of view I am a Mexican citizen; but how will some consul, some ambassador, some bureaucrat, some president be able to erase the color of my blood, erase my twenty-some years of life as a black citizen of the United States, where I went to segregated schools, where I traveled in the back of the bus reserved for blacks, where I sat in stations, in theaters, in restaurants in the section that said negroes only!?31

  • 32 With Catlett’s help, the Unión Nacional de Mujeres Mexicanas (an organization begun after the 1963 (...)

27Once she became a Mexican citizen, Catlett raised her political profile once again. In 1963 she traveled to Cuba as part of the Mexican delegation to the Congress of Women in the Americas. Inspired by Cuba’s emerging socialism, she created the linocut Integración racial en Cuba, or Education in Cuba (1964), celebrating the island nation’s commitment to racial, educational, and social equity. Along with creating and translating documents, she made posters and flyers in the tradition of TGP. And she organized the Comité Mexicano Provisional de Solidaridad con Angela Davis in 1969, part of the worldwide movement agitating against the militant thinker’s unjust imprisonment. The artist’s monumental polychrome cedar Political Prisoner (1971) certainly speaks to her work on behalf of Angela Davis, who was freed in 1972.32

Washington, D.C., 1935

  • 33 Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, p. 1.

28Alice Elizabeth Catlett was born in 1915 and raised in the nation’s capital. Her father, John Catlett, had been on faculty at Tuskeegee Institute, teaching mathematics alongside pioneers of education Booker T. Washington and Carter G. Woodson; he was also a musician and artist.33 Elizabeth Catlett’s activism began in high school, when she took part in an anti-lynching campaign, protesting in front of the Supreme Court building with a noose around her neck.

  • 34 Keith Morrison, Art in Washington and Its Afro-American Presence, 1940‒1970 (Washington, D.C.: Was (...)
  • 35 James A. Porter, Modern Negro Art (New York: The Dryden Press, 1943).

29As was the pattern with so many African-American artists in the first part of the twentieth century, Catlett sat for the entrance exams to the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) — only to be rejected because of her race. Heading instead to her hometown institution of Howard University, Catlett entered what would become a leading center of the Black artistic world of the moment, especially when it came to the training of young artists. James Herring had set up the art department in 1921 and opened the Howard University Art Gallery in 1930, the first institution of its kind at a historically Black college or university. Herring was keen on fostering an aesthetic of eclecticism and bringing ‘cross-cultural experiences’34 to Howard students and the city of Washington itself. Among other things, the gallery hosted exhibitions of African art, and versions of Impressionist and early modern pieces from the Barnes Foundation. James A. Porter (a graduate of the department) began teaching at Howard in 1927; in 1943 he would publish Modern Negro Art,35 one of the first comprehensive studies of African American artists. Alain Locke, a luminary of the Harlem Renaissance who was also involved in many curatorial projects, had taught at Howard since 1912. Eminent printmaker James Lesesne Wells (1902‒ 1993) was also on the faculty, as was painter and designer Löis Mailou Jones (1905–1998). Catlett continued her activism in college, participating in actions against war and fascism as part of Howard’s Liberal Club, and with the National Student League.

  • 36 Christóbal McKinney, ‘UI Names Residence Hall After Elizabeth Catlett: Madison Street Residence Ha (...)

30Graduating cum laude in 1935, Catlett moved to North Carolina, where she taught elementary and secondary schools to earn money for graduate school. The University of Iowa (U.I.) had a reputation for accepting African-American students. She recalls her warm welcome when she disembarked from the train in Iowa City in 1937; how students of color helped her navigate the terrain, including finding a place in a Black rooming house, since they were not allowed to live in campus dorms. Catlett eventually roomed with Margaret Walker, studying creative writing, whose poetry would shortly energize the Chicago Renaissance. Decades later both Carnegie Mellon and the University of Iowa would apologize to Catlett for their discriminatory practices, offering honorary degrees, buying and commissioning art, and creating scholarships, with U.I. even naming a residence hall after her.36

  • 37 Catlett had worked briefly (and unsuccessfully) with the PWAP at Howard University; see ‘Interview (...)
  • 38 Ibid., p. 51.

31As Kathleen A. Edwards has suggested, U.I. played an important role in mapping American art in the 1930s. Modern (and European) abstract tendencies were championed by art department chair Lester Longman. It was also a site for the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP, the precursor to the WPA) and the related Regionalist style, represented on the teaching staff by Grant Wood (1891–1942). Harry Stinson, Catlett’s sculpture professor, and Wood were both part of the PWAP (the project also operated at Howard University). Catlett was drawn to Wood’s interest in art’s public presence and availability in murals, prints, and representational schemas. Jean Charlot (1898–1979), a Frenchman affiliated with Mexican muralism, was also in residence at U.I. during Catlett’s years there, completing two murals. She already had exposure to Mexican and Latin American traditions at Howard, where they were taught by James Porter. Catlett took metalworking classes in the Engineering School and studied Northern Renaissance art and architecture with a young German immigrant, Horst W. Janson, decades prior to the release of his tome History of Art (1962), which defined the study of art history for generations.37 In 1940 Catlett became the first person in the US to receive the M.F.A. degree in studio art from U.I’s innovative program.38 Her thesis show featured works in terracotta, bronze, and stone, including the signature Negro Mother and Child (1940).

  • 39 Stacy Morgan, Rethinking Social Realism: African American Art and Literature, 1930‒1953 (Athens: U (...)

32Upon receiving her graduate degree, Catlett headed to New Orleans, where she assumed the chair of the art department of the historically Black Dillard University. After her first teaching year, she spent the summer of 1941 in Chicago, connecting with Margaret Walker and the Black artistic milieu that came to be known as the Chicago Renaissance. This movement, inspired by social realist style and leftist politics, ‘shared a profound faith in the capacity of cultural work to leverage transformations in the social and political sphere on behalf of America’ s poor and working classes.’39 Catlett extended her studies in ceramics at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and did printmaking at the newly opened South Side Community Arts Center, a fulcrum for the Black arts community, including Margaret Burroughs (1915–2010), Eldzier Cortor (1916–2015), Charles Sebree (1914‒ 1985), and painter Charles White (1918–1979), whom she would marry later that year.

  • 40 See Andrea D. Barnwell, Charles White (Rohnert Park: Pomegranate Communications, 2002), p. 30.
  • 41 Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, pp. 11, 14‒16. Catlett also integrated the pool at University (...)

33Catlett returned to Dillard University with White, who taught drawing there during 1941‒ 42. They would leave Dillard at the end of the academic year, after learning of a new mandate to teach during the summer months. However, they may also have found the teaching environment in the South so restrictive as to be untenable.40 One of Catlett’s students from her time at Dillard was Samella Lewis. A native of New Orleans, Lewis found in Catlett an uncompromising champion of Black equity and Black artists; ‘a commanding and fascinating individual’ who was not afraid to confront the status quo. In her life in the South, Catlett stood up to segregation in public transportation, in museums, and in swimming pools; confronted police brutality; insisted on expanding the art curriculum to include the study of nude models; and battled to raise salaries for Black teachers. In New Orleans she was someone who lived in the French Quarter with everyday folk rather than on campus.41

34Indeed, as Catlett herself would frame it, an incident at Dillard would have significant impact on the art she would make going forward. Late in the fall of 1941,

  • 42 Elizabeth Catlett, ‘Responding to Cultural Hunger,’ in Mark O’Brien and Craig Little (eds.), Reima (...)

when a retrospective exhibition of Picasso’s paintings — including the ‘Guernica’ mural — came to New Orleans’s Delgado Art Museum [now the New Orleans Museum of Art], I decided to take the 130 young Black men and women in my art history class to see it. But the museum was closed to us because it was in City Park, where Blacks were not permitted.
Through a friend I arranged a visit for us on a Monday when the museum was closed, and we were bussed in. The students were excited and fascinated by the paintings. They ran from room to room exclaiming, calling to one another, uninhibitedly enjoying these ‘strange paintings with glowing color!’ No one was bored. No one had ever been in an art museum before.42

  • 43 Samella S. Lewis and Ruth G. Waddy (eds.), Black Artists on Art, 2 vols. (Los Angeles: Contemporar (...)

35Samella Lewis was one of those students. Lewis would follow Catlett to Hampton University, where she was in residence in 1943, while White completed his fresco-secco mural The Contribution of the Negro to Democracy in America (1943) for Clarke Hall. Catlett and Lewis would collaborate throughout their lifetimes. Lewis included Catlett in the second volume of Black Artists on Art (1971),43 documenting more than 150 Black practitioners of the 1960s and 1970s. Catlett was an enthusiastic supporter of Lewis’s magazine Black Art: An International Quarterly, first published in 1976, contributing her Mother and Child (1971) to the cover of the inaugural issue. Inside, a section focusing on her work included a foldout offset print, suitable for framing. Lewis would write the monograph The Art of Elizabeth Catlett in 1984, publishing it under her own imprint, Hancraft Studios.

  • 44 Kenneth Spencer was at work on the Black-cast Hollywood musical Cabin in the Sky (1943). See Barnw (...)

36Newlyweds Catlett and White landed in New York in the summer of 1942, where they sublet the apartment of baritone Kenneth Lee Spencer, a Hollywood figure and a regular at Café Society, the nightclub frequented by progressive and leftist New York. His address at 409 Edgecombe Avenue in Harlem thrust them into the heart of New York’s creative Black world. Over the years the building was home to the innovations of Duke Ellington and W. E. B. Du Bois, and legal and diplomatic luminaries such as Thurgood Marshall and Ralph Bunche. In Harlem, White and Catlett found a vibrant art world filled with a community of painters such as Charles Alston (1907–1977), Aaron Douglas (1899–1979), Norman Lewis (1909–1979), Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence (respectively, 1917–2000 and 1913–2005), printmaker Robert Blackburn (1920‒ 2003), and writers such as Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, and Ann Petry.44

  • 45 Herzog, Elizabeth Catlett, p. 36.
  • 46 Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, p. 9.

37Like Chicago, New York was a site of African American leftist networks in the first half of the twentieth century. Catlett jumped right in. She joined the Arts Committee of the National Negro Congress, and devoted teaching time to serving at schools run by the Communist Party USA, including the Greenwich Village Jefferson School (teaching ceramics), and Harlem’s George Washington Carver School, where she worked in ‘fundraising and publicity’45 and taught sculpture and sewing. These institutions served working people, with the Carver School attracting Harlem’s ‘cooks, maids, janitors, elevator operators, garment industry workers’ and the like.46 On numerous occasions, Catlett identified her teaching as a lens through which to see what was required of her art practice, whether it was daring to bring students to a museum in the segregated South, inspiring them to experience their own beauty, or creating things that she felt spoke to the mass of Black people’s conditions.

  • 47 Elizabeth Catlett, ‘The Negro Artist in America,’ American Contemporary Art, 1:2 (1944), 3‒6; and (...)

38Catlett’s connection to American Contemporary Artists (ACA) Galleries also involved her with a leftist cohort. Opening in 1932, ACA was one of the few galleries to showcase American art; its roster was incredibly diverse, featuring women, Asian, African-American, and Jewish artists and others, most demonstrating a radical if figurative bent. In the mid-1940s Catlett would contribute to the gallery’s magazine, outlining some of her ideas about Black education and exhibition making.47

  • 48 See Erik S. McDuffie, Sojourning for Freedom: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of B (...)

39In continuing to see Black women — their beauty, intellects, and bodies — as a source of inspiration and as a major thematic through which to narrate an art practice and navigate the world, Catlett found incredible support in New York City at midcentury. Scholars have unpacked the discourse of ‘Black left feminism’ developing from the 1920s through the 1950s in the US. Nurtured in part in Communist Party USA and Popular Front circles, it was a standpoint that placed working-class Black women at the center of social struggle in ways that spoke to the nexus of race, class, gender, and ultimately transnational discourse. Activists and writers like Esther Cooper Jackson and Marvel Cooke were part of Elizabeth Catlett’s New York milieu.48

40Beginning with her days as an organizer with the Southern Negro Youth Congress in the 1940s, and membership in the Communist Party USA, Esther Cooper Jackson was important in Black leftist circles into the 1980s as the managing editor of the journal Freedomways, the magazine of the contemporary struggle. Jackson included Catlett’s 1961 article ‘The Negro People and American Art’ in its inaugural issue, and artists such as Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence would create imagery specially for its pages over the years.

  • 49 For citations in this paragraph, see Campt, Image Matters, p. 53. See also Esther Cooper Jackson, (...)

41Catlett and Cooper Jackson used their maiden names, as many progressive women and self-identified Black feminists did at that time. They were also among the numerous Black women publicly and unceasingly harassed by McCarthyism in ways onerous to women and their children. Esther Cooper became Esther Cooper Jackson when redbaiting accelerated in the 1950s as a way to connect herself to a husband who went underground as a result of this governmental persecution. Such a strategy of ‘familialism’ relied on more staid notions of family than many of these radical women had heretofore practiced, according to historian Erik S. McDuffie. Campt might say it was a performance of family, which mobilized the sign of ‘maternal touch.’ In this political context we see how Catlett’s signaling to the family through repeated images of the mother and child might conform to such logic while continuing to press a feminist agenda. Born two years apart, Catlett and Cooper Jackson both had enslaved grandparents, who lived through Emancipation, and who chastened them with tales of this horrific past; such memories undergirded their ongoing activism.49

  • 50 Esther Victoria Cooper, ‘The Negro Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism’ (M. A. thesis, F (...)

42It was in her MA thesis in sociology for Fisk University in 1940 that Cooper Jackson initially presented her major thoughts on the role of Black working women as a vanguard whose position in the larger society was a true gauge of democracy. In her thesis, ‘The Negro Woman Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism,’ she focused on the efforts of these workers to organize a union. This allowed her to examine the pitiable working conditions for Black women in the US. Included was a discussion of the horrors of the so-called Bronx Slave Market, where ‘girls are shipped up in car loads from the south to stand on corners waiting for work for 25 to 35 cents per hour’ as domestic day laborers.50

  • 51 Marvel Cooke’s exposé of the Bronx Slave Market appeared in the Amsterdam News in 1939 and the Dai (...)

43As McDuffie points out, journalism enabled Black feminists to bring their ideas to the world. Marvel Cooke was one such journalist, perhaps best known for her exposés of the Bronx Slave Market, where she went undercover as a maid for hire, getting her story from the women who waited on corners and potential employers alike. She was the first woman to write for the Amsterdam News, publishing on cultural topics including visual art. Cooke was also Catlett’s downstairs neighbor at 409 Edgecombe and an early collector, including a splendid Mother and Child (1942‒ 44). Catlett and Cooke would come together again to support the Free Angela Davis Committee, on which Cooke held a prominent position. At the George Washington Carver School, Catlett would work with Hermina Dumont (Huismond) a significant organizer who had been a part of the Harlem Tenants League, a progressive organization addressing Black women’s economic issues in the 1920s.51

  • 52 See Powell, ‘Face to Face,’ p. 52.

44Though it was completed at Taller de Gráfica Popular in Mexico City in 1946‒47, Elizabeth Catlett began her important series The Negro Woman in New York, energized by an activism that was Black and feminist. The work is epic in its historical breadth but accomplished through a series of linocuts, each hardly larger than eight by ten inches. The serial format is reminiscent of that used by Jacob Lawrence for his sixty tempera-panel series, The Migration of the Negro (1940‒41). Catlett’s fifteen linocuts also rely on text, beginning with the tightly framed portrait I am the Negro Woman. However, her first-person narrative creates a different mood from Lawrence’s almost omniscient observer, engaging viewers as participants in a more intimate fashion.52 They picture, for Catlett, the working people she willingly served with her practice. As with Lawrence’s Migration, The Negro Woman series had a specific order determined by its text:

  • 53 Herzog, Elizabeth Catlett, p. 59. The full series is published in Melanie Anne Herzog (ed.), Eliza (...)

I am the Negro Woman, I have always worked hard in America […] In the fields […] In other folks’ homes […] I have given the world my songs. In Sojourner Truth I fought for the rights of women as well as Negroes. In Harriet Tubman I helped hundreds to freedom. In Phyllis Wheatley I proved intellectual equality in the midst of slavery. My role has been important in the struggle to organize the unorganized. I have studied in ever increasing numbers. My reward has been bars between me and the rest of the land. I have special reservations […] Special houses […] And a special fear for my loved ones. My right is a future of equality with other Americans.53

  • 54 Mary Carson Catlett eventually became a truant officer; Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, p. 2.

45Catlett’s imaging of Black female labor here is in direct dialogue with her friends Esther Cooper Jackson and Marvel Cooke, as well as other Black feminists who were a part of New York’s radical communities in the 1940s. These images also pay homage to her mother, who upon the death of her husband, washed floors by day and worked the dancehall coat check at night, though like her husband she had been trained as a teacher.54 One of Catlett’s first prints completed in Mexico, Domestic Worker (1946) engages with this theme as well.

46In The Negro Woman series, Catlett’s ‘sheroes’ are also present. Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Phyllis Wheatley are figures she would reimagine over the years and in a variety of mediums. Pieces such as Harriet (1975) and Madonna (1982), featured in the exhibition We Wanted a Revolution, are indicative of how Catlett conceived of signature themes anew.

47Over the years, scholars have read the contemporary feminist movement in the US, and rights movements at the end of the twentieth century generally, as building on the successes of the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. However, more recent scholarship sees earlier Black left feminism as setting the stage for the more visible feminist work of the 1970s. Indeed, women like Cooper Jackson and Cooke would continue to be active into the 1970s and beyond, mentoring the second-wave feminist generation.

  • 55 Brenson, ‘Elizabeth Catlett’s Sculptural Aesthetics,’ pp. 28, 38, 27. Brenson interviewed Catlett (...)

48Through her sculpture and prints Catlett would do the same. As she would tell Michael Brenson in 1997, ‘I like seeing things develop from inside out’; her love of building sculpture up from a lump of clay or an interior armature could also be applied to her activism. She fought inequities throughout her life and understood these fights (as a swimmer) from inside the body, from an embodied subjectivity that was Black, and female, and part of Mexico, and creative, and more. It is, too, Campt’s haptics — touches, engagements — of the visual, in motion. Brenson’s queries on modernist sculpture — ’What does the aesthetic experience of form mean? What effect does it have? What is its purpose?’ — are defiantly answered by Elizabeth Catlett’s eight decades of practice, he realizes. Her pieces luxuriate in light and ‘seem hungry for the world around them. They are creatures of restraint but also of engagement, of introspection but also of action, of self-control but also of desire.’55

Bibliographie

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―, with a foreword by Elton C. Fax and a commentary by Jeff Donaldson, Elizabeth Catlett: Prints and Sculpture, exh. cat. (New York: Studio Museum in Harlem, 1971).

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Notes

1 In honor of curatorial generations, Samella Lewis, Lowery Stokes Sims, Rujeko Hockley, and all the rest of us. With special thanks to Madeline Weisburg for research assistance. A version of this essay originally appeared in Rujeko Hockley and Catherine Morris (eds.), We Wanted A Revolution, Black Radical Women 1965–1985, New Perspectives (New York: Brooklyn Museum, 2018).
Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017), p. 4.

2 Karen Anne Mason, interview with Alonzo Davis, African-American Artists of Los Angeles: Oral History Transcript, 1992–1993 (Los Angeles: Oral History Program of the University of California, 1994), pp. 199–202. Catlett’s show opened at Brockman Gallery on 7 February 1971.

3 For more on Betye Saar with regard to these issues, see Kellie Jones, South of Pico, African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017), chapter 2.

4 Richard J. Powell, ‘Face to Face: Elizabeth Catlett’s Graphic Work,’ in Jeanne Zeidler (ed.), Elizabeth Catlett: Works on Paper, 1944‒1992 (Hampton: Hampton University Museum, 1993), p. 49. The majority of works on view at the Studio Museum in Harlem were either courtesy of Brockman Gallery or listed as owned by the artist. Catlett’s iconic Black Unity (1968) went into the collection of Brockman Gallery founder Alonzo Davis. See Elizabeth Catlett with a foreword by Elton C. Fax and a commentary by Jeff Donaldson, Elizabeth Catlett: Prints and Sculpture, exh. cat. (New York: Studio Museum in Harlem, 1971).

5 Catlett collaborated with Marie Johnson and San Jose State College around the Freedom for Angela Davis movement. For a detailed listing of exhibitions during this period, see Melanie Anne Herzog, Elizabeth Catlett: An American Artist in Mexico (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000), pp. 214, 210. For more on Samella Lewis and Marie Johnson (Calloway), see, Kellie Jones (ed.), Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960‒1980, exh. cat. (Los Angeles: Hammer Museum, University of California and New York: DelMonico Books, Prestel, 2011). For a look at Samella Lewis’s amazing and expansive Black art project, see Jones, South of Pico, pp. 172‒80.

6 Elizabeth Catlett, quoted in Samella Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett (Claremont, CA: Hancraft Studios, 1984), p. 90.

7 Samella Lewis calls this form ‘embryo-like’; see Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, p. 162. See also Lowery Stokes Sims, ‘Elizabeth Catlett: A Life in Art and Politics,’ in Lucinda H. Gedeon (ed.), Elizabeth Catlett Sculpture: A Fifty-Year Retrospective, exh. cat. (Purchase: Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York; distributed by University of Washington Press, 1998), p. 22; and Herzog, Elizabeth Catlett, p. 142.

8 Elizabeth Catlett artist statement in Samella S. Lewis and Ruth G. Waddy (eds.), Black Artists on Art, Vol. 2 (Los Angeles: Contemporary Crafts Publishers, 1971), p. 107.

9 Sims, ‘Elizabeth Catlett,’ pp. 21‒22. See also Frieda High W. Tesfagiorgis, ‘Afrofemcentrism and its Fruition in the Art of Elizabeth Catlett and Faith Ringgold (A View of Women by Women),’ Sage: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women, 4:1 (1987), 25‒29.

10 Elizabeth Catlett, quoted in Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, p. 102.

11 Elizabeth Catlett, ‘The Role of the Black Artist,’ The Black Scholar, 6:9 (1975), 10–14 (p. 13).

12 Elizabeth Catlett, ‘The Negro People and American Art,’ Freedomways, 1:1 (1961), 78.

13 Catlett, ‘The Role of the Black Artist,’ p. 14.

14 Catlett divorced African-American artist Charles White and married the Mexican artist Francisco Mora. She asserted in numerous interviews that Mora’s feminism allowed her to thrive as a creator. She claimed the same for Frida Kahlo, who was married to Diego Rivera. See ‘Interview of Elizabeth Catlett by Glory Van Scott,’ 8 December 1981, excerpted in ‘Elizabeth Catlett: Sculptor, Printmaker,’ Artists and Influence: The Journal of Black American Cultural History, 10 (1991), 1–27. Barnett-Aden Gallery opened in 1943 and was run by one of Catlett’s former Howard University professors, James Herring.

15 See Jones, South of Pico, pp. 50‒56. Saar had three daughters, while Catlett had three sons. All of these children would go on to work in the arts.

16 ‘Interview of Elizabeth Catlett by Glory Van Scott,’ p. 4.

17 Catlett had studied with Zuñiga at La Esmeralda in 1946; Herzog, Elizabeth Catlett, pp. 66‒69, 71.

18 Ibid., pp. 34‒36.

19 Tina M. Campt, Image Matters, Archive, Photography, and the African Diaspora in Europe (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012), part 1, and Tina M. Campt, Listening to Images (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017), chap 3.

20 Elizabeth Catlett quoted in Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, 95, 93. Campt, Image Matters, 32‒33.

21 Judith Wilson, ‘Getting Down to Get Over: Romare Bearden’s Use of Pornography and the Problem of the Black Female Body in Afro-US Art,’ in Gina Dent (ed.), Black Popular Culture (Seattle: Bay Press, 1992), pp. 112–21.

22 Herzog, Elizabeth Catlett, p. 21.

23 Michael Brenson, ‘Elizabeth Catlett’s Sculptural Aesthetics,’ in Gedeon (ed.), Elizabeth Catlett Sculpture, p. 28.

24 Ibid., pp. 28–29.

25 Sims, ‘Elizabeth Catlett,’ p. 11.

26 Powell, ‘Face to Face,’ p. 51.

27 For more on Chicago’s American Negro Exposition of 1940, see Adam Green, Selling the Race: Culture, Community and Black Chicago, 1940‒1955 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), chapter 1; and Mabel O. Wilson, Negro Building: Black Americans in the Worlds of Fairs and Museums (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), chapter 4.

28 Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, p. 163.

29 Herzog, Elizabeth Catlett, p. 79. See also ‘Interview of Elizabeth Catlett by Camille Billops,’ pp. 23‒24. In the early 1960s, in the years before the Black Arts Movement took hold, writer Elton Fax also records Black artists’ fear and avoidance of Catlett after she was marked as a McCarthy-era communist enemy. Indeed, various incarnations of the House Un-American Activities Committee were part of American life from 1945 to 1975. See Elton C. Fax, Seventeen Black Artists (New York: Dodd Mead, 1971), p. 29.

30 Raquel Tibol, Experiencia negra: Escultura y grabado de Elizabeth Catlett, exh. cat. (Mexico City: Museo de Arte Moderno, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1970), unpaginated.

31 Raquel Tibol, quoted in Herzog, Elizabeth Catlett, pp. 148‒49. On Catlett’s 1971 visa problems, see Herzog, pp. 150, 213, 214.

32 With Catlett’s help, the Unión Nacional de Mujeres Mexicanas (an organization begun after the 1963 sojourn in Cuba) became Mexico’s official national political voice on Angela Davis’s incarceration. See Herzog, Elizabeth Catlett, p. 136; and ‘Interview of Elizabeth Catlett by Camille Billops,’ p. 24.

33 Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, p. 1.

34 Keith Morrison, Art in Washington and Its Afro-American Presence, 1940‒1970 (Washington, D.C.: Washington Project for the Arts, 1985), p. 37, cited in Brenson, ‘Elizabeth Catlett’ s Sculptural Aesthetics,’ p. 32. See also Kathleen A. Edwards, ‘The Fine Art of Representing Black Heritage: Elizabeth Catlett and Iowa, 1938‒1940,’ in Lena M. Hill and Michael D. Hill (eds.), Invisible Hawkeyes: African Americans at the University of Iowa During the Long Civil Rights Era (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2016), p. 53.

35 James A. Porter, Modern Negro Art (New York: The Dryden Press, 1943).

36 Christóbal McKinney, ‘UI Names Residence Hall After Elizabeth Catlett: Madison Street Residence Hall Will Carry the Name of Renowned African American Alumna,’ Iowa Now, 7 September 2016, https://now.uiowa.edu/2016/09/ui-namesresidence-hall-after-elizabeth-catlett; ‘Elizabeth Catlett,’ in Graduate Education at Iowa 2011‒2012, Annual Report; Monica Hayes, ‘Making Amends: CMU Lauds Famed Black Artist 76 Years After It Denied Her Admittance,’ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 19 May 2008, https://www.post-gazette.com/news/education/2008/05/19/Makingamends-CMU-lauds-famed-black-artist-76-years-after-it-denied-her-admittance/stories/200805190178. See also ‘Interview of Elizabeth Catlett by Glory Van Scott,’ p. 4; and Edwards, ‘The Fine Art of Representing Black Heritage,’ pp. 60‒61.

37 Catlett had worked briefly (and unsuccessfully) with the PWAP at Howard University; see ‘Interview of Elizabeth Catlett by Camille Billops,’ p. 16. See also Edwards, ‘The Fine Art of Representing Black Heritage,’ pp. 51‒65.

38 Ibid., p. 51.

39 Stacy Morgan, Rethinking Social Realism: African American Art and Literature, 1930‒1953 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004), p. 2. On the Chicago Renaissance, see Darlene Clark Hine and John McClusky Jr. (eds.), The Black Chicago Renaissance (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2012). Gwendolyn Brooks, Richard Wright, Theodore Ward, and Katherine Dunham were also active in Chicago during this period.

40 See Andrea D. Barnwell, Charles White (Rohnert Park: Pomegranate Communications, 2002), p. 30.

41 Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, pp. 11, 14‒16. Catlett also integrated the pool at University of Iowa while in graduate school. See Edwards, ‘The Fine Art of Representing Black Heritage,’ p. 61.

42 Elizabeth Catlett, ‘Responding to Cultural Hunger,’ in Mark O’Brien and Craig Little (eds.), Reimagining America: The Arts of Social Change (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1990), p. 244. Italics in the original.

43 Samella S. Lewis and Ruth G. Waddy (eds.), Black Artists on Art, 2 vols. (Los Angeles: Contemporary Crafts Publishers, 1969‒71).

44 Kenneth Spencer was at work on the Black-cast Hollywood musical Cabin in the Sky (1943). See Barnwell, Charles White, p. 30. See also Fax, Seventeen Black Artists, p. 22. On Café Society, see Farah Jasmine Griffin, Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II (New York: Civitas Books, 2013).

45 Herzog, Elizabeth Catlett, p. 36.

46 Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, p. 9.

47 Elizabeth Catlett, ‘The Negro Artist in America,’ American Contemporary Art, 1:2 (1944), 3‒6; and Elizabeth Catlett, ‘A Tribute to the Negro People,’ American Contemporary Art (Winter 1946), 17. See also Elizabeth Catlett, ‘Responding to Cultural Hunger,’ in O’Brien and Little (eds.), Reimagining America, pp. 244‒49.

48 See Erik S. McDuffie, Sojourning for Freedom: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011); Griffin, Harlem Nocturne; and Mary Helen Washington, The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).

49 For citations in this paragraph, see Campt, Image Matters, p. 53. See also Esther Cooper Jackson, This Is My Husband, Fighter for His People, Political Refugee (New York: National Committee to Defend Negro Leadership, 1953); Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, pp. 4‒6; and McDuffie, Sojourning for Freedom, chapter 5. Indeed, Catlett may have known Cooper Jackson’s husband, James E. Jackson Jr., at Howard University. Though Catlett was an undergraduate and Jackson was in graduate school at the College of Pharmacy, and they may have overlapped only during 1934‒35, both were active in progressive groups such as the Liberal Club.

50 Esther Victoria Cooper, ‘The Negro Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism’ (M. A. thesis, Fisk University, 1940), p. 98; quoted in Erik S. McDuffie, ‘“No Small Amount of Change Could Do”: Esther Cooper Jackson and the Making of a Black Left Feminist,’ in Dayo F. Gore, Jeanne Theoharis, and Komozi Woodard (eds.), Want to Start A Revolution? Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle (New York: New York University Press, 2009), pp. 25–46 (p. 33).

51 Marvel Cooke’s exposé of the Bronx Slave Market appeared in the Amsterdam News in 1939 and the Daily Compass in the early 1950s, along with other analyses of Black prostitution and youth drug culture. When Cooke began work at the Daily Compass, she became the first Black woman employed at a white-owned daily as a writer. She also wrote for Adam Clayton Powell Jr.’s The People’s Voice. Ella Baker and Marvel Cooke’s ‘The Bronx Slave Market’ appeared in the NAACP’s Crisis magazine in 1935. See ‘Interview of Elizabeth Catlett by Camille Billops,’ pp. 20‒21. On Hermina Dumont (Huismond), see McDuffie, Sojourning for Freedom, chapter 1.

52 See Powell, ‘Face to Face,’ p. 52.

53 Herzog, Elizabeth Catlett, p. 59. The full series is published in Melanie Anne Herzog (ed.), Elizabeth Catlett: Image of the People, exh. cat. (Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005).

54 Mary Carson Catlett eventually became a truant officer; Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, p. 2.

55 Brenson, ‘Elizabeth Catlett’s Sculptural Aesthetics,’ pp. 28, 38, 27. Brenson interviewed Catlett in Cuernavaca, Mexico, 10‒13 January 1997.

Auteur

Associate Professor in Art History and Archaeology and a Faculty Fellow with the Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS) at Columbia University. Her research interests include African American and African Diaspora artists, Latinx and Latin American Artists, and issues in contemporary art and museum theory. Jones has received numerous awards for her work from the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, Harvard University; Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant and a term as Scholar-in-Residence at the Terra Foundation for American Art in Europe in Giverny, France. In 2016 she was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow. Jones’s writings have appeared in exhibition catalogues and such journals as NKA, Artforum, Flash Art, Atlantica, and Third Text. She is the author of two books, EyeMinded: Living and Writing Contemporary Art (2011), and South of Pico: African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s (2017). Jones has also worked as a curator for over three decades and has numerous major national and international exhibitions to her credit. Her exhibition ‘Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960–1980’, at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, was named one of the best exhibitions of 2011 and 2012 by Artforum, and best thematic show nationally by the International Association of Art Critics (AICA). She was co-curator of ‘Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the 1960s’ (Brooklyn Museum), named one the best exhibitions of 2014 by Artforum.

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