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Faith Ringgold: American People Transcripts

To support the appreciation and accessibility of Faith Ringgold’s work, written transcripts of select Ringgold’s works are available below in English and Spanish.

Story Quilt Transcripts

Story Quilt Transcripts (English)

Feminist Series #12 of 20: We Meet the Monster, 1972

Acrylic on canvas in fabric
Courtesy the artist and ACA Galleries, New York


We meet the monster prejudice everywhere. We have not power to contend with it. We are so downtrodden. We cannot elevate ourselves … We want light; we ask it, and it is denied us. Why are we thus treated? Prejudice is the cause.


Clarissa Lawrence (also known as Chloe Minns of Salem), Proceedings of the third national Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women, held in Philadelphia, in 1838

Feminist Series #14 of 20: Men of Eminence..., 1972/1993

Acrylic on canvas on framed fabric
Courtesy the artist and ACA Galleries, New York


‘Men of Eminence have mostly risen from obscurity; nor will I, although female, of a darker hue, and far more obscure than they, bend my head or hang my harp upon willows; for though poor, I will virtuous prove.’


1 Maria Stewart, 1833, ‘Appeal to the Slaves’

Feminist Series #18 of 20: “Mr. Black Man Watch Your Step...”, 1973/1993

Acrylic on canvas on framed fabric
Courtesy the artist and ACA Galleries, New York


Mr Black man, watch your step! Ethiopia’s queens will reign again, and her Amazons protect her shores and people. Strengthen your shaking knees, and move forward or we will displace you and lead on to victory and to glory.


Amy Jacques Garvey, 1925, NYC

Feminist Series #6: There Was One of Two Things, 1972

Acrylic on canvas, fabric
Courtesy the artist and ACA Galleries, New York


There was one of two things I had a right to: liberty or death. If I could not have one I would have the other, for no man should take me alive.


Words by Harriet Tubman, Auburn, NY, 1869


Painting by Faith Ringgold in NYC, 1972

Tar Beach II, 1990

Silkscreen on silk with pieced fabric
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Gift of Marion Boulton Stroud, 2001.252


I will always remember when the stars fell down around me and lifted me up above the George Washington Bridge.

  1. I could see our tiny roof top with Mommy and Daddy and Mr. & Mrs. Honey our next door neighbors, still playing cards as if nothing was going on, and BeBe, my baby brother, laying real still on the mattress, just like I told him to, his eyes like huge floodlights tracking me through the sky.
  2. Sleeping on Tar Beach was magical. Laying on the roof in the night with stars and skyscraper buildings all around me made me feel rich, like I owned all that I could see. The bridge was my most prized possession.
  3. Daddy said the George Washington Bridge was the longest and most beautiful bridge in the world and that it opened in 1931 on the very day I was born. Daddy worked on the bridge hoisting cables. Since then, I’ve wanted that bridge to be mine.
  4. Now I have claimed it. All I had to do was fly over it for it to be mine forever.

I can wear it like a giant diamond necklace, or just fly over it and marvel at its sparkling beauty. I can fly, yes fly. Me, Cassie Louise Lightfoot, only eight years old and in the third grade and I can fly.

  1. That means I am free to go wherever I want to for the rest of my life. Daddy took me to see the Union Building he’s working on. He can walk on steel girders high up in the sky and not fall. They call him the cat.
  2. But still he can’t join the Union because Granpa wasn’t a member. Well Daddy is going to own that building cause I’m gonna fly over it and give it to him. Then it won’t matter that he’s not in their ole Union or whether he’s Colored or a half breed Indian like they say.
  3. He’ll be rich and won’t have to stand on 24 story high girders and look down. He can look up at his building going up. And Mommy won’t cry all winter when Daddy goes to look for work and doesn’t come home. And Mommy can laugh and sleep late like Mrs Honey and we can have ice cream every night for dessert.
  4. Next I’m going to fly over the ice cream factory just to make sure we do. Tonight we’re going up to Tar Beach. Mommy is roasting peanuts and frying chicken and Daddy will bring home a watermelon. Mr. and Mrs. Honey will bring the beer and their old green card table. And then the stars will fall around me and I will fly to the Union Building.
  5. I’ll take BeBe with me. He has threatened to tell Mommy and Daddy if I leave him behind.

I have told him it’s very easy, anyone can fly. All you need is somewhere to go that you can’t get to any other way. The next thing you know, you’re flying among the stars.

Change: Faith Ringgold’s Over 100 Pounds Weight Loss Performance Story Quilt, 1986

Photoetching on silk and cotton with printed and pieced fabric
Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Collection


Change: Faith Ringgold’s Over 100 Pounds Weight Loss Story Quilt


January 1, 1986

In this year, 1986, I will lose 128 pounds. By January 1, 1987, I will weigh 130 pounds, or I’ll eat your hat. Min I’ve already eaten. Faith you will have been trying to lose weight since the sixties. For the last twenty, twenty-five years you’ve been putting yourself on diets, charting you lack of progress and gaining weight. For the next six moths you’ll be in California, away from everybody, the perfect place to make the CHANGE.

You always lose weight when you’re away from them. They lose weight when you’re away from them too. There’s a message in this. Never mind—you just know what you need. Peace of cake—I mean mind. It’s as simple as that. Aggravation makes you hungry. You are over controlling. Admit it! You took the test and passed—high. But you can CHANGE that too. Mommy can exchange her 100 pound burden for some peace and a life of her own. Whatever it takes to do it. It’s a first place pre-ority—I mean priority.

Use art to document the CHANGE: this quilt, a performance and a video of the entire weight loss process. Now you tell me how you’re going to explain not losing weight this time? I’ll say, “Well you see, there was a cute little pig moved in next door. Used to come over all cooked, ready to eat. I couldn’t keep my hands off his ribs.” No Faith—there are no excuses. You can’t gain it back. We’re talking total change this time: good nutrition, behavior modification, daily exercise, and hunger.

I know you don‘t want to admit it. When it comes to food you lack self-esteem. Like everything else you probably ate it, and can’t remember what it tasted like. Let’s face it. You’re quite good at eating large portions of food, gaining weight and talking to yourself about it. Well, the eating of large portions of food and the weight gain is over. But can we talk? Yes. I am out to prove something right here and now. I can CHANGE. I can do it. I can do it. I can CHANGE. I can CHANGE NOW.



In the 1930’s folks had fried chicken and greens for Sunday dinner, and fried fish and potato salad on Friday. Your family had leg. Of mutton on Sunday, and fried fish on Saturday. Fried fish was the only food your mother fried when you were a kid ‘cause nobody ever heard of porgies cooked any other way. Because you had asthma and were allergic, you were on a health food diet of steamed vegetables, fresh fruit, lamb, chicken, veal, skimmed milk, corn meal gruel, and homemade lemon ice cream made with skimmed milk that tasted awful.

Your mother never allowed you to eat between meals. The kitchen was closed every evening after supper till breakfast the next morning. Years later you developed a fascination for late night eating by the light of the open refrigerator door. You thought those calories didn’t count. But what about the tell-tale evidence they left behind and in front?

Exercise was part of the day’s work for your mother; you were up before dawn in the norming; bathed, dressed, and out in the street; then back for lunch and a nap; out again, back for dinner and in bed before sundown. Vacations were spent on the beach in Atlantic City. But mother’s schedule was unchanged. While you were napping you could hear her snapping her fingers and dancing to William B. Williams radio program “It’s Make Believe Ballroom Time” while she did her housework. That was her aerobic exercise, and it took you all these years to figure that out.


[The following is a guide to overlapping photographs to the right of the text panel.]

  1. Faith 1931; 2. With Barbara 1937; 3. With Barbara at World’s Fair 1939; 4. With Barbara and Andrew 1931; 5. With Barbara and Andrew 1931; 6. On Beach in Atlantic City 1938; 7. With Mother 1934; 8. In buggy 1931; 9. With Andrew and Barbara at 3 year old birthday, 1938; 10. With Andrew on boardwalk in Atlantic City 1936; 11. With Barbara and Andrew 1937; 12. With Mother and Barbara (in sand) in Atlantic City 1934; 13. With Andrew and Barbara 1936; 14. Faith 1937; 15. With Barbara and Andrew, Orange NJ 1931; 16. With Andrew and Barbara in snow 1932; 17. With Barbara on beach in Atlantic City 1938. Photo credits: DeLaigle Studios.



By the 1940’s we all had to clean up our plates for the starving children. That of course was right up your alley since you never left anything anyway. It was in those years that you discovered chocolate candy bars. They were a nickel then and as big as the ones that cost 50 cents today. All you really thought about in those years were chocolate candy bars, boys, make-up, and clothes.

Actually, you never really pursued your chocolate addiction past your teens, except for the time you thought of making chocolate candy as a business. You found it’s quite easy to make chocolate candy, and even easier to eat it all.

It’s lucky for you that you never learned to make pastry. The few times you tried it, the results were more useful as bricks you could throw in a real pastry show window. Some people would call that a sacrilege, and give you two to four years time. But you wouldn’t have minded if you could do it in a bakery. Some ideas are so bad you wonder how you entertained them even for a minute—like the one you had about making all your pastries so that you would at least have good nutrition. You made a pound cake that weighed more than you did. Industrial strength pound cake. You needed a saw to cut it. And you ate it. You had to steam it first, but you ate it.


[The following is a guide to overlapping photographs to the left of the text panel.]

  1. Mother, Barbara, S Husband, Jo Jo, and Faith on Easter 1949; 2. Faith 1947; 3. With Freda and Jimmy; 4. In 1948; 5. On boardwalk in Atlantic City, 194?; 6. With Bernice and Barbara in Atlantic City 194?; 9. Faith and Earl Wallace (married in him Nov. of 1950); 10. On day of graduation from high school June 1948; 11. Barbara, Mother and Faith 1948; photo credits: DeLaigle Studios.



Women in the 1950’s had to get married to leave home. Barbara was married first. Her wedding was beautiful; however, both of your marriages were terrible mistakes. You were still in college when you and your two daughters moved in with your mother after you divorce. All through the 1950’s you were scantily dressed in tight, revealing dresses with matching 3-inch heels, a size too small; and you often amazed onlookers by falling down whole flights of stairs without injury.

You also modeled for your mother in her many fashion shows, and was her master of ceremonies which was more appealing to you. Being a model seemed an unnatural thing to do. You were a connoisseur of pork chop sandwiches—that was natural for you. Birdie (your soon to be second husband) often brought you a pork chop sandwich and some tutti frutti ice cream made from whole milk and cream when he came to call. That was love.

Pork chop sandwiches cost 75 cents. The were greasy and fried—better than steak. A date was to go to the movies or a concert or a dance and then to dinner at Sherman’s Barbeque or the Red Rooster on 7th Avenue for fried chicken and a drink. The next day after a date you were always sick with asthma. As a matter of fact, many times you got asthma before the date and had to go to the hospital instead; or you went out and got asthma on the way home and had to be carried upstairs. That was romance in the 1960’s.


[The following is a guide to overlapping photographs to the right of the text panel.]

  1. Barbara’s wedding: top row, Andrew Jr. second from left, Andrew Sr. (Daddy) far right. Middle row, Faith, third from left, Barbara, fourth from left. Cheryle, Andrew’s baby, front center. 1950; 2. Faith modeling 1956; 3. Graduation MA degree. CCNY 1959; 4. With mother rehearsing for role as MC at fashion show 1950; 5. (Baby) Barbara with Faith and both grandmothers and paternal grand aunt. 1953; 6. Faith with (Baby) Michele 1952; 7. Faith modeling, 1956. Photo credit: George Hopkins.



In 1961 you discovered French bread and cheese, and wine with your meats in Europe, though you were brough tup to believe that people who drank wine were winos. The French, however, carried their wine well—that is, everywhere—they drank it like water. In Italy you acquired a refined taste for pasta, veal parmigiana, olive oil, and more wine. Café dining on the Via Veneto in Rome stimulated your palette and enlarged your waistline. Eating was fun but it was also therapeutic.

In the 1960’s you found a lot of things to eat about. You were married again, had two teenaged daughters, developed a mature style of political art, began looking for a gallery, found one on 57th Street, and had your first one-person show. It was then that you began promising to lose weight. Pork was now a political issue. Baby don’t eat no pig, it’ll kill you!” the brothers said. But you did.

By now you were having wine with your pork chops and bread and cheese with your ribs. You had a doctor on West 56th Street that would dispense weight-loss pills by the week. Soon you stopped losing weight. You didn’t know you were supposed to increase the dosage in order to get the same effect. You increased eating instead and gained back all the weight you lost.


[The following is a guide to overlapping photographs to the left of the text panel.]

  1. Faith modeling probably for the last time 1965; 2. At wedding to Burdette—Michele, Burdette, Faith, Roy (best man), Barbara, Barbara (sister and daughter) 1962; 3. With Burdette 1962; 4. With mother, Barbara and Michele on S.S. Liberté enroute to Paris 1961; 5. Michele, Faith, Barbara and Mother enroute to Europe (without me) 1967; 6. In Studio 1968. Photo credits: George Hopkins.



In the 1970s food was a feminist issue and you were a fat feminist. Always looking for a quasi-politically correct reason to eat. And of course you found plenty of them. In the sixties it was being a wife and mother, the rejection of being a Black artist and other oppressions. In the seventies it was all that and being a woman too.

You didn’t have to eat over that. You didn’t solve anything by having two dinners at one meal, and don’t blame anybody. You used to say your husband, Burdette, made you eat so that no one else would look at you. And then you didn’t look at you either. You used to say you never served leftovers because your family hated them. Your family never saw anything they left over. You’d eat it all up while you were washing the dishes. You were so embarrassed that day when you entered a midtown restaurant eating cookies. “I’ll be back,” the waiter said, “when you finish eating.”

Remember the time you showed up at a benefit exhibition for an uptight political candidate? You posed with her not realizing you held a greasy bag of nuts. She slapped you on your hand and ordered you to “put that away.” At that moment you had the attention of several news media. You could have made the front page and the Nightly News that day, “Fat Woman Goes Nuts;” but you smiled, wiped your mouth, and put your nuts out of sight. Your clothes were no longer fashionable or fun, but a cover-up. One fall, you forgot to cover your knees from the early cold. You had pain in your knees so bad you could hardly walk. The pain travelled to your so that you had to crawl twisted and wincing to the doctor’s office. “Lose weight,” he said. Doctors are good at telling you to lose weight and how much to pay the nurse. What they don’t tell you is—How?


[The following is a guide to overlapping photographs to the right of the text panel.]

  1. Mother and Faith viewing collaborative piece at 10-year retro. 1973; in studio 1972; 3. In performance 1977; 4. At installation or morah at Women’s House of Detention Rikers Island 1972; 5. In audience of panel on women artists over 70 at Brooklyn Museum 1975; 6. In studio 1978. Photo credits: 1. R. Costello, Home News; 2. George Hopkins; 3. Barbara T. Wenders; 4. Rufus Hinton; 5. Carin Droohster Marx; 6. Ellie Thompson.



By the 1980’s you had finally eaten yourself into a corner. The only way out was cold turkey without dressing. The wine with your meals at a nice restaurant had escalated to a barefoot binge before the TV. You tried a program of group therapy that met in different women’s homes. One day ten or fifteen of you 200-pounders-plus were sitting on straining chairs when the aroma of a serious pot cooking in the kitchen met your collective noses. You had visions of a mad rush to the door in which several women mangled while others of heavier poundage stampeded to the kitchen and literally ate it—pots all. You never went back. Over-eaters are not necessarily compatible. You found yourself sitting in the same room talking about your personal life with women you’d disagree with on every issue except pork. You needed special help.

The only problem you could solve was what to eat. For a while you were on a beans and rice diet. People have a way of knowing when you’ve made that choice. You didn’t lose any weight, but you did lose a few overly sensitive friends. Remember when you bought a 30 dollar bottle of cognac because the salesman thought you were Nell Carter of “Gimme a Break”? You actually asked for brandy but he heard cognac, and you couldn’t make her look cheap so you bought it. Now you can’t stand brandy and you can’t afford cognac. Then you heard Nell Carter was losing weight on a pasta diet. So, to keep “your” identity intact, you went on a pasta diet—all you can eat. In order to surprise yourself with a dramatic weight loss, you stayed off the scale for weeks. You gained 12 pounds on that diet. Surprised?

It was now time for a CHANGE. No more gimmicky diets. Let your body tell you what you need. After all that pasta you needed protein so you went on a fried chicken meal plan. It was health, as you recall, since the chicken was fried in corn oil. This time you tipped the scale at a whopping 258 pounds, and broke it. The scale was tired. That same day, Baby Faith came running out of your room screaming, “Granma your scale says I weight 258 pounds.” It is time for a CHANGE.


[The following is a guide to overlapping photographs to the left of the text panel.]

  1. Faith at Wooster College 1985; 2. In performance 1984; 3. Directing performance at Wooster College; 4. In political dress (made by Marquetta Johnson) 1984; 5. With Michele in 1980; 6. With Barbara and Burdette at Barbara’s graduation at CUNY 1981; 7. With Baby Faith and Woman on a Pedestal Sculpture; 8. At Artists Against Apartheid press conference 1984. Photo credits: 2. Tom Ferentz; 1, 3 Wooster College P.R.; 4. Peter Bellamy; 7. Fern Logan; 8. Beauford Smith.


October 1986 (Jan–Oct)

The worst part of being fat was squeezing yourself sideways through the subway turnstile: hobbling down the stairs to the train in hopes that it would still be there when you finally arrive, and that you would be lucky enough to find two seats. Together. It is difficult to change a lifetime of indulgence but there are some things you have learned. One is that you cannot eat meat. If you do you will want to have the gravy over some rice, some cake to neutralize the taste, some ice cream over that, and then the whole kitchen. Instead you must look for the lite label on foods you buy. Industrial strength is for cleaning.

But still, if somebody would offer a surrogate jogger, you would sit there on the beach in California or the park bench in New York City and applaud them as they run your lazy bones by, knowing you’d get the benefits. That would be a real high. Stay away also from people and situations that send you off the wall and straight into the refrigerator.

It is September 27, 1986, and though I have 40 pounds yet to lose I have lost 88 pounds. Today I am thinner than I have been in the last twenty years. I eat fresh fruit and vegetable sin stead of pasta and pork chops, and I exercise almost every day. I am out to prove something right here and now. I can CHANGE. I can do it. I can do it. I can CHANGE. I can CHANGE NOW.


[The following is a guide to overlapping photographs above the text panel.]

  1. Faith, September 28; 2. In the Spring; 3. With Burdette, Sept; 4. With Baby Faith, Baby Teddy, and Barbara; 5. In October; 6. On January 27 (beginning of weight loss program); 7. With Baby Faith and Burdette in September; 8. In September; 9. Received Honorary Doctor of Fine Art, Moore College of Art, Philadelphia, PA, June; 10. In front of The Purple Quilt, October. Photo credits: 1, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, C. LOVE; 5, 10, Clarissa Slight; 6. Lifetime Health and Nutrition Center, San Diego, CA; 2, UCSD student.


Photo etching plates by Van Allyn Graphics, NYC. Printing by Lynn Rogan and Julie Amario of the Printmaking Workshop, NYC. Editing by Lisa Yi. Faith Ringgold © 1986 NYC.

Change 2: Faith Ringgold’s Over 100 Pounds Weight Loss Performance Story Quilt, 1988

Photoetching on silk and cotton with printed and pieced fabric
Courtesy the artist and ACA Galleries, New York


In 1986 I lost 100 pounds. In 1988 I gained it all back. No! In 1988 I continue to pursue my goal to lose an additional 30 pounds. Change 2 is about trying to lose 30 pounds. The songs and raps I have written on this quilt are a part of the Change 2 performance. I can’t sing or dance and 30 pounds might as well be 300, but I’m still trying. That’s what it takes to change.


The Change Song

Because I think you are so very nice
I want to offer you some good advice
You may be rich, You may be poor
Livin high on the hog
Or stretched out on the floor
You may be a professor
With knowledge to burn
Or just a young kid with a lot to learn
You may be black, white, red, yellow
Or in between
You may be kind or a little mean
But if you remember this simple phrase

You’ll be a winner for the rest of your days

First stand up everyone in the place
Now put a great big smile on your face

Everybody ready? Let’s go!
This is the phrase you need to know
I can change, I can do it
Just Keep Tryin, and you’ll do it.



My mother brought us up to eat three square meals a day, without eating between meals. When I got old enough to run my own kitchen I ate three square meals a day. And then three more at night. My Mama made me do it.


Mama Made Me Do It

Mama made me do it (Repeat 2x’s)

Told me clean my plate (Repeat 2x’s)

That’s how I gained this weight


Mama made me do it (Repeat 2x’s)
Told me eat to grow strong (Repeat 2x’s)

My mother was never wrong
Mama made me do it (Repeat 2x’s)
Said there were children starving (Repeat 2x’s)

As she just went on carving
Mama made me do it (Repeat 2x’s)
Piled my plate up high (Repeat 2x’s)
Right up to my eye


Mama made me do it (Repeat 2x’s)
Mama taught me to be good (Repeat 2x’s)

Said shut-up girl and eat your food

Mama made me do it (Repeat 3x’s)



We walked everywhere when we were kids so we could spend our carfare on chocolate candy bars and ice cream cones. They were both 5 cents then and bigger than the ones you pay a dollar for today. Though I no longer spend my carfare on candy bars, I still love to eat but I hate to exercise.


I Hate To Exercise

I hate to exercise (Repeat 2x’s)

Sometime I fall from grace
Fast foodin all over the place

Weighty gains on hips and thighs

Trays of Danish flash before my eyes

Listen to what I say

I struggle every day


I really hate to exercise (Repeat 2x’s)

It doesn’t matter how big my size
I just hate to exercise (Repeat 2x’s)

Can’t do it

Can’t stand it
Early to bed and late to rise
Makes a woman unhealthy and over size


Oh baby, I hate to exercise (Repeat 3x’s)




We had something called dates in the 1950s. Not the ones you eat, but I ate on all of mine. I was in my twenties, and it was a very romantic time. When young men came to call on me instead of bringing me flowers they brought me pork chop sandwiches. They were fried, cost 75 cents and were better than steak. That was romance in the 1950s—greasy food.


Greasy Food

Greasy food. Tastes good?

Make you big like a pig.
All fat like that
Starts a crave. An early grave.


Greasy food. Tastes good?
Creamy dips. Pad your hips.

Burgers and fries. Line your thighs.

Sweet treats. Fatty meats.
Are unkind behind.
Make your belly shake like jelly.


Greasy food. (Repeat 3x’s)

Tastes good?



The 1960s was a fabulous decade. I discovered French wine and cheese in Paris and learned to be an activist in the streets of New York. At home my teenaged daughters drove me to eat wine with pork chops, and bread and cheese with my ribs and trouble.



Trouble will make you eat (Repeat 2x’s)

Run out in the street
Lookin for a treat


Trouble will make you eat (Repeat 2x’s)

Run out in the street
Lookin for a treat
A treat to eat, to eat a treat (Repeat 2x’s)


Trouble (Repeat 6x’s)

A treat to eat

Trouble (Repeat 3x’s)



In the 1970s, food was a feminist issue and I was a fat feminist. Always looking for a quasi politically correct excuse to eat. In the 1960s it was being a wife and mother, the rejection of being a black artist and other oppressions. In the 1970s it was all that and being a woman too. The 1970s kept me wondering when I’d get enough pain.



Pain, pain pa-a-a-a-in
I feel a pain in my knee So bad I can’t see
Make me hobble around And twist my hip

I’m sorry I ate those chips


I feel a pain in my back
Feel like it could crack
Make me holler and scream Stay away from that ice cream


I feel a pain in my leg
Like I’m pullin a keg
Can’t get up those stairs Stop eatin chocolate eclairs


Will this end? Yes



Move around shake your body Make a sound make it hearty
Walk a mile and you’ll smile
You’ll feel good, You’ll feel great You’ll lose that weight (Repeat 3x’s) Oh yea



By the 1980s there was no diet I hadn’t tried. I gained weight on all of them. I didn’t know you couldn’t, so I’d combine them. If one worked well, two or three should work better. I finally broke the scale at 258. God knows what I weighed after that. Tomorrow, I’ll change.



Tomorrow (Repeat 2x’s)

I’ll lose it tomorrow

Tomorrow I’ll lose it
I’ll lose it tomorrow

Tomorrow (Repeat 3x’s)


No Today!


I can change I can do it
Just keep on tryin and you’ll do it




The worst part about being fat was squeezing through the subway turnstile sideways; hobbling down the stairs panting and blowing while some bewildered passenger holds the door for me. And then to have two people get up to give me one seat. I just got to change.


I Just Got To Change

I just got to change (Repeat 2x’s)

I can’t stand the pain
It’s like a fire in my brain

Everyday it’s the same

Never mind who’s to blame


It’s me that’s got to change

Eatin all that food is so insane
I just got to change (Repeat 2x’s)


Repeat The Change Song



Change 3: Faith Ringgold’s Over 100 Pound Weight Loss Performance Story Quilt, 1991

Acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric
Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland


  1. Can you imagine a party where everyone invited is a manifestation of yourself? I am having such a party, and finding it is fun and a great way to get to know myself.
  2. It’s been a long time since I learned anything new about myself. I talk to myself and I understand and accept my point of view. But I want to know: who am I talking to?
  3. At my party everyone invited is me, and knows me, so there is no need to posture or pretend. Even our disagreements and rejections are stimulating and enlightening.
  4. The extreme manifestations of me showed up at the party uninvited and were snubbed. One was eating a fried porkchop sandwich from a greasy bag. When she left, in a huff, she got stuck in the door.
  5. But can you imagine a party such as the one I suggested: with only me there—or you there; in every possible expression of myself or rather of yourself? Would you find that intriguing?
  6. Would you want to be surrounded by yourself: the you who are your repressed dreams and fantasies; your second helpings, midnight binges and lack-luster lazy, cookie-monster demons?
  7. Can you imagine what you would look like, be like, in every color, shape, form and combination of your being? You could get some answers to some very pertinent questions like: “Why do you eat so much?”
  8. Because you already know the person you are talking to is really you, you could ask anything. But ask only a thin you about over-eating; otherwise the answer could lead to a second helping.
  9. I am so demanding. I want everything I fantasize to be real and true. If it turns bad, I will try to change it, if not I may deny it. But who can deny weight?
  10. All of my guests came nude. They were every degree of weight loss and gain I’ve had over the past 40 years. I was shocked though delighted to meet them all face to face. They were.
  11. A best friend, though we have fallen out lately, who eats only one low-fat meal a day. She caught me eating her lunch once, when she came late for a lunch date.
  12. This woman exercises and works out, has facials and dress fittings and is very together. I love being around her. But she is sometimes compulsive and rigid about food. I have not seen her lately.
  13. There is another woman who likes only to look at food. She is a culinary voyeur. I admire that. She will prepare delicious food and never eat it. I am fond of her, though I rarely see her.
  14. There is another woman who always wants to “do lunch!” I don’t do lunch, I eat lunch. The only thing I like to do when I eat lunch, is order more.
  15. When I crave a piece of chocolate cake and ice cream it is she who supplies me with a fix. “I’m here for you any hour of the day or night” she says. But I don’t want to know her.
  16. I have made it quite clear, though she is basically a nice person, that I find her presence very threatening. She is simply not my type. But still she sticks to me like glue.
  17. I prefer the woman who is often too busy to eat; and picks over her dessert until her ice cream melts, and makes her cake soggy. You might know I never ever see her.
  18. So I invited her to go to Paris with me. I happen to know that she hates French food—all that bread and butter and patisserie. But she was as usual too busy to eat—or to go.
  19. There is one woman who is my greatest fantasy, though she will never be invited again. I identify with her too closely. She eats nonstop and never gains weight.
  20. There are two very large women who have eaten three trays of hors d’oeuvres each before dinner. They have invited me to an after dinner party for coffee, cake, and ice cream. Really!

Dancing at the Louvre: The French Collection Part I, #1, 1991

Acrylic on canvas, printed and tie-dyed pieced fabric, and ink
Gund Gallery at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio. Gift of David Horvitz ’74 and Francie Bishop Good, 2017.5.6


  1. Dear Aunt Melissa,

Marcia and her three little girls took me dancing at the Louvre. I thought I was taking them to see the Mona Lisa. You’ve never seen anything like this. Well, the French hadn’t either. Never mind Leonardo da Vinci and Mona Lisa, Marcia and her three girls were the show.

  1. They ran me ragged. Marcia wanted to go one way and the children another. The baby girl wanted to jump. The other two wanted to run, and did. Then they all just broke into a dance when we finally found the Mona Lisa.
  2. Pierre used to say, “Cherchez le fauteuil roulant, just get a wheelchair at the door of the Louvre, ’cause if you don’t you’re gonna need one going home.” I’ve been to the Louvre a hundred times, but never have I seen it like this. It was like looking at the pictures upside down from a racing car going 100 kilomètres à l’heure.
  3. Now that Marcia is married to Maurice, and they have moved to Paris, she and her children are determined to speak le bon Français parfaitement by morning. I had to put her straight about me and the children. You know how it is with friends, they all want to tell you who they think you are and how to live your life, and why.
  4. Well I told her straight out, “Marcia, you known damn good and well your papa never went past the third grade.” And that was food in those days, ’cause he wasn’t supposed to do that. But my papa was a school principal. He finished Lincoln Academy in Lynnsville. And I got the diploma to prove it.
  5. Papa taught in Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia. I got all his licenses and test scores. Papa and Mama was both teachers. We didn’t come up like no weeds. Not saying she did either. But I resent her telling me that my children belong in France. And that I should be raising them, not you.
  6. Papa never allowed those Campbell boys in our yard. Chauncey, Buba and Percy, both of Marcia’s brothers was allowed in our yard. Now I’m saying he was right ’cause Papa était un snob. But I remember Papa, in the little pinstriped coat he used to wear and his glasses on the end of his nose.
  7. Papa was something. “No, young man, you go out of this yard. The Simone girls are doing their chores and they have their studies, supper and to bed. Allez vous en!” Then he’d hit that tail at the back of his coat like a period and turn at the same time. And those Campbell boys would fly out of our yard.
  8. Papa wasn’t too keen on Marcia either, but she always had a little way about her, like she thought she was très chic. Marcia doesn’t remember any thing about growing up poor in Atlanta. As far as she is concerned she was born in a first class cabin on the S.S. Liberté on her way to Paris, sipping Möet and smoking a Gauloise.
  9. You should hear the story she told us about how she used to set the table for diner with silver service and cristal every night ’cause her father would get upset if he came home and the table wasn’t formally set for supper. We were at the Paris party and her husband, Maurice, was present so I just “uh-uh’d” her.
  10. But I remember the time we saw those Campbell boys coming out of Miss Baker’s back door carrying food. They said they were cleaning out her ice box and the food was spoiled. Then Miss Baker came over crying to Papa that all the food in her icebox was gone. Papa sat Miss Baker down to our supper table and went straight over to Marcia’s house.
  11. And there was Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, and their three sons sitting at their kitchen table in the dark eating Miss Baker’s food. When Papa came in they started coughing and gagging. They almost choked. But not Mademoiselle Marcia. Papa said she was on the back porch nursing un cristal de limonade and reading Madame Bovary.

Wedding on the Seine: The French Collection Part I, #2, 1991

Acrylic on canvas, printed and tie-dyed pieced fabric, and ink
Private collection


  1. You could say, I ran comme un dératé, like a bat outta hell. The was only one thing I could think about. Get out of this church and get some air. Never mind what this crowd thinks about it. Run, girl, run. To the river fast as you can. And get rid of these damn flowers and this wedding veil and train. What is this, a funeral?
  2. I’ve only been in Paris 6 months. I came to be une artiste, not a wife. I don’t even know the language. Pierre is American born with French parents, so he speaks l’Anglaise et le Français parfaitement though he loves everything American, le plus noir que possible. But what about his family and friends?
  3. There is something in the way they look at me, as if to say: How did you get so far away from home, l’enfant? Will you become civilized, or will you remain just a beautiful savage dressed in a Paris frock? The French believe that they are the unique civilization. But what about the Bastille, the Nazi collaboration, the Haitian and Algerian revolutions?
  4. They will kill with a glass of wine raised for a toast. Vive la France! And if you will be just as dead as if you had your throat cut in some back alley in Harlem over 25 cents and a bottle of beer. Is it because I am a little black girl from Harlem that I don’t believe their charade?
  5. Why did I marry this Frenchman? I hardly knew him. He’s more than twice my age, and white. We have very little in common. Il sera un bon mari. Il est très riche et généreux. They all said. “You will be very happy with him my dear. His family has been in Paris for three generations. He is practically French.”
  6. The wedding procession was hot on my heels. Pierre was holding up the rear puffing and blowing. Ne l’arrêtez pas d’aller! Elle reviendra. Elle est le mienne maintenant. “Let her go. She’ll come back. She’s mine.” I ran even faster. “Pierre will make you a great husband,” someone yelled at me. Or will me make me over into his shadow?
  7. Could I be une artiste and a wife? “Take a studio in Paris or in our chateau in the South,” Pierre said. But I don’t even know if I can paint. Now I may never find out. I ran even faster down the narrow streets to the Ille de la Cité past the Notre Dame Cathedral and on to the Pont-Neuf, overlooking the Seine.
  8. I could have run forever. The wedding procession was gaining on me. I had to make a statement. Something more than “I obey” and “I do.” Cause I don’t, I won’t! I hurled my bouquet into the river and it landed on the Bateaux Mouche and the crowd of tourists looked up and applauded me with Vive la France!
  9. I made my statement. Would it be the last I’d make? Oh God, don’t let me sink like those flowers. I want to live a life of making art, not babies and dinner and beds. I looked back at the wedding procession. They stood frozen, waiting for my next move. Pierre was in the front row. An aging man, résolu.
  10. What does Pierre know about me and the way I was raised in our little tiny apartment in Harlem? Does he understand what my mother and faither sacrificed to give me the little they gave me? Does he know that as meager as our life was it was beautiful, and that we loved each other as we were rich?
  11. What do I know about Pierre’s family and his life in the Fifth Avenue town house he was born in in New York City? Who was the pretty black girl who changed his diapers and took care of him? Did she look like me? When he is holding me and telling me how much he loves me, is it memories of her that make his voice tremble as it does?
  12. Will our children be French? Or French speaking coloreds? And why have I waited till it is too late to ask these questions? Is it because the answers are not as important as amour? For whatever reason, I know he loves me. But that’s no reason to run away.
  13. Later I learned that Pierre had a serious heart condition with only a few years to live. No wonder I never had to put up with a mistress. He had assez d’amour seulement pour moi. We were together—death do we part. Not much time for art or anything else but being with Pierre, and two babies—one a year and then…
  14. I was again on the Seine, without flowers, applause or a wedding procession in hot pursuit. I was remembering our wedding day. They were right all the time—Pierre was un bon mari. But would he leave me alone? Could I do my art? Within just three years Pierre died, leaving me alone with my art and my two babies.

The Sunflowers Quilting Bee at Arles: The French Collection Part I, #4, 1991

Acrylic on canvas, printed and tie-dyed pieced fabric, and ink
Private collection


  1. The National Sunflowers Quilters Society of America are having quilting bees in sunflower fields around the world to spread the cause of freedom. Aunt Melissa has written to inform me of this and say: “Go with them to the sunflower fields in Arles. And please take good care of them in that foreign country, Willia Marie. These women are our freedom,” she wrote.
  2. Today the women arrived in Arles. They are Madame Walker, Sojourner Truth, Ida Wells, Rosa Parks, Mary McLeod Bethune and Ella Baker, a fortress of African American women’s courage, with enough energy to transform a nation piece by piece.
  3. Look what they’ve done in spite of their oppression: Madame Walker invented the hair straightening comb and became the first self-made American-born woman millionaire. She employed over 3000 people. Sojourner Truth spoke up brilliantly for women’s rights during slavery, and could neither read nor write. Ida Wells made an exposé of the horror of lynching in the South.
  4. Fannie Lou Hamer braved police dogs, water hoses, brutal beating, and jail in order to register thousands of people to vote. Harriet Tubman brought over 300 slaves to freedom in 19 trips from the South on the Underground Railroad during slavery and never lost a passenger. Rosa Parks became the mother of the Civil Rights Movement when she sat down in the front of a segregated bus and refused to move to the back.
  5. Mary McLeod Bethune founded Bethune Cookman College was special advisor to Presidents Harry Truman and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Ella Baker organized thousands of people to improve the condition of poor housing, jobs and consumer education. Their trip to Arles was to complete The Sunflower Quilt, an international symbol of their dedication to change the world.
  6. The Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh came to see the black women sewing in the sunflower fields.

“Who is this strange looking man?” they asked.
“He is un grande peintre,” I told them, “Though he is greatly troubled in his mind.” He held a vase

of sunflowers, no doubt une nature morte, a still life, for one of his paintings.

  1. “He’s the image of the man hit me in the head with a rock as a girl,” Harriet said. “Make him leave. He reminds me of slavers.” But he was not about to be moved. Like one of the sunflowers, he appeared to be growing out of the ground. Sojourner wept into the stiches of her quilting for the loss of her thirteen children mostly all sold into slavery.
  2. One of Sojourner’s children, a girl, was sold to a Dutch slave in the West Indies who then took her to Holland. “Was that something this Dutch man might know something about? He should pay for all pain his people have given us. I am concerned about you, Willia Marie. Is this a natural setting for a black woman?” Sojourner asked.
  3. “I came to France to seek opportunity,” I said. “It is not possible for me to be an artist in the States.”

“We are all artists. Piecing is our art. We brought it straight from Africa,” they said. “That was what we did after a hard day’s work in the fields to keep our sanity and our beds warm and bring beauty into our lives. That was not being an artist. That was being alive.”

  1. When the sun went down and it was time for us to leave, the tormented little man just settled inside himself and took on the look of the sunflowers in the field as if he were one of them. The women were finished piecing now.

“We need to stop and smell the flowers sometimes,” they said. “Now we can do our real quilting, our real art: making this world piece up right.”

  1. “I got to get back to that railroad,” Harriet said. “Ain’t all us free yet, no matter how many them laws they pass. Sojourner fighting for women’s rights. Fannie for voter registration. Ella and Rosa working on civil rights. Ida looking out for mens getting lynched. Mary Bethune getting our young-uns education, and Madame making money fixing hair and giving us jobs. Lord, we is sure busy.”
  2. “I am so thankful to my Aunt Melissa for sending you wonderful women to me,” I said. “Art can never change anything the way you have. But it can make a picture so everyone can see and know our true history and culture, from the art. Someday I will make you women proud of me, too. Just wait, you’ll see.”

“We see, Willia Marie,” they said. “We see.”

On the Beach at St. Tropez: The French Collection Part I, #8, 1991

Acrylic on canvas, printed and tie-dyed pieced fabric, and ink
Collection Ed Bradley and Patricia Blanchet


  1. The beach is where I go to look at men. I like to see my men’s faces on other men’s bodies. J’aime l’amour, Pierrot. The beach is my place to go over that in my life. But you, my son, are mon amour de la verité. You and your sister are my flesh and blood, my life. These men are just my fantasy, ma fragilité.
  2. Love, like a hand on a hot stove, may burn. I was very close to a man I met on the ship coming over here. He took care of me when I was homesick for my mother. I would have married him instead of your father, but he deserted me. Il m’aime complètement. Maybe because it was only for a minute.
  3. Almost anything short-lived can be good. He knew that, I didn’t. Pierrot, my son, you are a man now with a family of your own. Try to understand me. I grew up knowing I was destined to live in service to others, in the kitchen, in the bed. Suddenly, at age 16 I was an artist living in Paris.
  4. I escaped the cotton fields of Georgia and the side streets of Harlem to live as une artiste in Paris. I had a life more full than I could have ever imagined. The French said I was beautiful, Pierrot. They called me Mademoiselle Précieuse. In America I would be just another black bitch with a broom and a house full of nappy headed kids.
  5. Sometime I actually forget who I am and where I came from here. To the French I may be a beautiful black princess or an exotic Queen of the Nile, but they want me to remember that I am not French. I am not white; in fact, I am very black. And very different. In America, they may hate me for that. In France it is enough to point me out and name me différente.
  6. Being different stands for a lot in France where everyone descends from Louis XIV ou XVI, or whoever the aristocratic royalty is most grand et royal. But I escaped the Jim Crow clutches of America. So I smile when they call me black princess, remembering my former name is black bitch.
  7. When I arrived in Paris in 1920, I was 16 years old, Pierrot. There were a lot of Negro artists here when I arrived, painters and writers and musicians all seeking opportunity. Some came broke with only $5.00 to their names. But I had $500.00, a lot of money in 1920. My Aunt Melissa gave it to me.
  8. “Go to Paris and prove to me that it is worth giving you every dime that I have for you to be an artist,” she said. She was lying, you know. Aunt Melissa always has more where that came from. Auntie would be proud to see my pictures. I know she would be proud that they let me be an artist here, though I can scarcely say they have made me one.
  9. I fought hard for what I have as an artist. There is no one here giving out careers. I arrived in Paris without friends, an ignorant child. I met Pierre, Sr., your father on the ship, too. Pierre, Sr. was American born, but both his mother and father were French. He liked me immediately, and, in spite of the fact that I did not love him, he refused to let me go.
  10. You are such a beautiful boy, my son, and if you want to judge me it is your choice to do so. But it will only make us both sad. I cannot change my past or yours. I abhor criticism. It is so useless to be judged in your later years, when you have no time to change. We must learn to change all that is amer à doux, bitter to sweet.
  11. People may want you to blame yourself as much as they blame you. But never let them convince you that you are worthy of blame. No matter how many mistakes you make. If you are trying
    to do something the mistakes are not your fault, though you should be man enough to pay for them.
  12. “Should anything happen to me, do your art,” your father said just before he died. “You can do it, Willia Marie, my Queen. I love you and my children. Be sure you tell them that. You will ask Aunt Melissa to help you raise our children. She will come to France to live.”
  13. “But you will not go back to America. That would destroy you and the children and everything I want for you.” When Pierre died everything was all tied up with lawyers, French bureaucratie et paperasse, red tape. I needed time to find myself. To grieve properly. Aunt Melissa never wanted to live abroad. She came and took you and Marlena back to America to live with her. And I let you go.
  14. It was all I could do, my son. Is that so hard to understand? I know you are not asking the question. But I am, Est-ce que tu m’aime? Je t’aime, I love you and Marlena intensely.

Le Café des Artistes: The French Collection Part II, #11, 1994

Acrylic on canvas, printed and tie-dyed pieced fabric, and ink
Private collection


Front row, left to right: William H. Johnson, Archibald Motley, Willia Marie Simone, Elizabeth Catlett, Lois Mailou Jones, Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Edmonia Lewis, Faith Ringgold

Middle row, left to right: Sargent Johnson, Romare Bearden, Aaron Douglas, Henry O. Tanner, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Augusta Savage

Back row, left to right: Ed Clark, Raymond Saunders, Jacob Lawrence, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Maurice Utrillo


  1. Dear Aunt Melissa,

Pierre left me as the owner of a Paris café, Le Café des Artistes, le rendezvous des arts et des lettres. It is located on the Boulevard des Saint Germain des Prés across from church in the heart of the artist’s quartier.

  1. I am here every day now. We are a very popular café. Every Saturday nite we have le dancing le plus gai et le plus curieux de Paris. Today the tables are humming with the usual clientele of artists and writers nursing a café crème and making art history right before our eyes.
  2. Pierre would be proud of my associations with the artists and writers. But still I have mixed feelings. Sometimes I feel as though I am one of them; at other times I feel like “The Spook That Sat By the Door.” I feel that now I have words to say that simply will not wait.
  3. Today I will issue the colored woman’s manifesto of Art and Politics. What would Pierre have to say about that? His timid wife all of 20 years old and addressing the greatest artists and writers of the century. I doubt that I would be doing this if Pierre were alive. But he is not and I am.
  4. Madames and monsieurs, I said, may I have your attention? This is a momentous time in the history of modern art, and I am excited to be in Paris, the center of cultural change and exchange. “It is a pleasure to have one so beautiful among us Madame Willia Marie. Bonne chère noire.”
  5. Like the Symbolists, Dadaists, Surrealists, and Cubists, I have a proclamation to make for which I beg your indulgence. It is the Colored Woman’s Manifesto of Art and Politics. “Women should stay home and make children not art.” “Soulard, alcoolique. You should go home!” “Silence! Taisez-vous!
  6. I am an international colored woman. My African ancestry dates back to the beginnings of human origins, 9 million years ago in Ethiopia. The art and culture of Africa has been stolen by Western Europeans and my people have been colonized, enslaved, and forgotten.
  7. What is very old has become new. And what was black has become white. “We wear the mask” but it has a new use as cubist art. “But you are influenced by the French Impressionists.” “No the German Expressionists.” Modern art is not yours or mine. It is ours.
  8. There is as much of the African masks of my ancestors as there is of the Greek statuary of yours in the art of modern times. “No it is the Fauve that has influenced you Madame Willia Marie.” And who made the first art… a doll maybe for an unborn child? A woman of course.
  9. “You are a primitive but very pretty.” Paris artists are shaping the culture of the world with their ideas. But modern art is much bigger than Western Europe or Paris. I am here, (in Paris). I am there (in Africa) too. That is why I am issuing a Colored Woman’s Manifesto of Art and Politics.
  10. “You should learn French cooking, it will help you to blend your couleurs.” “No she is a natural with couleur. Very primitive.” I will call a Congress of African American Women artists to Paris to propose that two issues be discussed. What is the image of the Colored Woman in art? And what is our purpose as modern artists?
  11. No important change of a modernist nature can go on without the colored woman. “Her palette is too harsh, she needs to develop a subtle range of greys.” Today I became a woman with ideas of my own. Ideas are my freedom. And freedom is why I became an artist.
  12. The important thing for the colored woman to remember is we must speak, or our ideas and ourselves will remain unheard and unknown. The café is my académie, my gallery, my home. The artists and writers are my teachers, and my friends. But Africa is my art, my classical form and inspiration.
  13. “You will come to my studio Madame Willia Marie. I will show you how to make a rich palette of couleurs and teach you to paint like a master.” “But next you will model for me my African maiden. Earth Mama! Queen of the Nile!” C’est la vie Auntie. The price I pay for being an artist.

The Bitter Nest, Part III: Lovers in Paris, 1988

Acrylic on canvas with printed, dyed, and pieced fabric
Courtesy the artist and ACA Galleries, New York


  1. The Bitter Nest: Part III. Lovers in Paris. Celia’s life was devoted to her father, whom she saw as an unfortunate figure, a giant of a man, imprisoned in the house of a mad woman—her mother. She wanted to free him from her. She tried to interest him in activities that would exclude Cee Cee, like lectures and musical concerts. But the doctor loved Cee Cee and would go nowhere without her.
  2. She even tried to interest him in a romantic tryst with a beautiful friend of hers, an ex-chorus line dancer named Mavis Lewis. But the dentist used the introduction to ask Mavis to give Celia a party to introduce her to some eligible young men in the hopes that she might find one to marry and have a family of her own.
  3. Celia met several young men who were charming and eligible for marriage but compared to her father, they were shallow and uninteresting. Except for Victor Bell, a young attorney from Washington, DC. Celia fell in love with Victor at a party. They danced and talked as if they had known each other for years. It was really love at first sight.
  4. They walked home in the early morning holding hands and laughing and promising one day to spend the rest of their lives together. It was the most fun Celia had ever had. He told her that he lived with his invalid mother in Washington, D.C., and that she was very demanding of his time. So, between her and his law practice, it might be several months before he could return to New York to see her.
  5. He mentioned a summer vacation in Paris he was planning and invited her to come along. He had some artist friends who lived in Paris. She could stay at their flat and his friend would show them both around Paris. If she felt uncomfortable about going to Paris with a man, she could take Mavis along as a companion.
  6. At the last minute, Victor’s plans changed. He would not go over on the ocean liner with Mavis and Celia. Instead, he would meet them in Paris a week or so later. He had urgent business to attend to in the States before he could leave for Paris. They should go on and he would be there as soon as he could.
  7. He sent the address of his friend’s flat and directions on how to get there when they arrived in Paris. Celia and Mavis arrived at Victor’s friend’s flat and were greeted by a Frenchman. He let them in and told them Victor’s friends were on holiday in the south of France and that he would show them around until Victor got there.
  8. While Celia unpacked, the French man took Mavis on a tour of the Left Bank shops and cafes. Once alone in the apartment, Celia undressed standing in front of a large full-length mirror. While admiring her well-shaped body, she noticed the appearance of a man in the doorway of the adjoining room. It was Victor. He was wearing only a beret.
  9. Parlez-vous français, mademoiselle?” he said. At once shocked, frightened, embarrassed and delighted, Celia stood glued to the spot.

“How did you get here?” she finally managed to stammer, “I thought you were in the States.”

“But I am here with you,” he said, taking her in his arms. “But I don’t understand,” said Celia.

  1. “You will my love,” Victor whispered in her ear as he slid her down on the large bed. “Did I ever tell you how much I love you? You were what I need to make my life complete. I will not let you get away from me this time. Celia, will you marry me?” Before she could respond, he was on top of her. This was the first time Celia had ever made love to a man.
  2. It was wonderful. Now she knew what she felt for him the first time she met him at that party many months ago was real. She did love him, and he loved her, and he wanted to marry her.
    It was alright if they slept together. They were too much in love not to. Now everything was perfect, like all her life—except Cee Cee.
  3. How could she think about Cee Cee at a time like this? But what about his mother? She was an invalid. She was dependent on him. Well, she would just have to get used to the idea that Victor has an invalid mother. After all, wouldn’t he have to get used to Cee Cee? Mavis and the Frenchman stayed out of their way for the next couple of weeks.
  4. The Frenchman lived in the next flat, so Mavis stayed there with him. Things could not have been better if they had been planned. Suddenly, one morning, Victor was gone as he arrived, without warning. On his pillow was a note: Dear Celia my love, I couldn’t bear to tell you, but Mother’s condition has taken a turn for the worse. I must go to her. I am so afraid that she may not be with me much longer.
  5. I love you so much, I cannot wait to see you again in the States. These weeks with you in Paris have been the happiest days of my life. ’Til we meet again my beloved Celia. My wife. Lovingly yours, Victor. But Celia never saw Victor again.

The Bitter Nest, Part IV: The Letter, 1988

Acrylic on canvas with printed, dyed, and pieced fabric
Courtesy the artist and ACA Galleries, New York


Though she never married, Celia had a child—which was not at all acceptable for unmarried women in those days. The dentist was heartbroken.

“It ain’t decent to have a baby and no husband, Celia,” he told her. “What would folks say?” Cee Cee prepared a nursery on the second floor next to Celia’s room and decorated it with quilts and baby things made special in multi-colors pieced together in her inimitable style.

But the dentist put his foot down. There would be no baby in the house. And Celia would have to go away as soon as she started to show and stay away until the baby was born. He arranged for one of his patients to adopt the baby. However, Mavis agreed, at Celia’s request, to take the baby and bring it up as her own with financial help from her family as long as she needed it. She didn’t care if people talked—they always talked about Mavis anyway. And, after all, she felt responsible for Celia getting pregnant. She should have warned Celia that Victor was a married man with three children and that his mother had been dead for many years before Celia met him. He had been lying to Celia. Everything he told her was a lie. He only wanted a conquest. To get Dr. Celia all the way to Paris  just to go to bed with him. He had a bet on it. The Frenchman held the money. Victor won several hundred dollars from his crewmen on that bet. Victor was a merchant seaman. The Frenchman and Victor were chefs on the same ocean liner. But Mavis spared Celia the details of her Paris rendezvous. Better she should just believe, as she did, that he would one day return to her and they would sail for Paris and take up where they had left off. True love would prevail.

Celia’s baby was a boy. She named him after her father, Percel Trombone Lewis. Lewis was Mavis’ last name. Mavis brought young Percel up to believe that she was his natural mother and that his father was a sailor who died at sea. Mavis and young Percel moved to Atlanta, Georgia. She had family there and, through Celia, she got a job as a doctor’s receptionist. Young Percel grew up to be quite a fine young man in Atlanta, graduated from Atlanta University and went on to Meharie to study medicine. Later, he changed to dentistry.

As fate would have it, young Percel, while rummaging in the attic in Mavis’s old trunks, came across a neatly tied bundle of letters all written many years before to a man named Victor.


July 2, 1934

Dear Victor,
Paris was wonderful. I cannot decide whether you are a scoundrel or an angel, but I love you. I want you more now than ever. You are the first man I have ever loved, other than my father. You do remind me of my father in many ways. You are tall and handsome and gentle and kind. And I love you as much as I love him.
In Paris they stared at us, we were so in love. Two Negroes in Paris, kissing on the banks of the River Seine. Remember they tried to take our picture? You got angry. How can I live without you?

Were you serious when you asked me to marry you that first night in Paris? I don’t mind waiting, my darling. But for how long? I want you more and more each day. All the best to your mother. I hope she is well.

Your love, Celia


August 18, 1934

Dear Victor,
I am still waiting for you, my darling. Those beautiful weeks of love we shared in Paris fill me with joy. I have not heard from you since you left me that night in Paris. I do hope your mother is well. Please give her my best regards for a speedy recovery.

Please write to me soon. I have something very important to tell you, my darling. My love cannot wait much longer.

Your Love, Celia


September 1, 1934

Dear Victor,
I must tell you, my darling; I am having your baby. If you still love me, as I know you do, please come to me. My father said you used me, but I know your sweet love was real. He is very disappointed in me. Please prove to him that you love me and that you were sincere when you asked me to marry you.

I have so much to offer you, much more than my love. I can help you with your law practice. Daddy just bought a house on Seventh Avenue. It is perfect for us. We can have our offices there and we can live there with our baby. Everything could be so perfect for us, my love.

If you still love me, please come to me, and give your baby a name. Mavis assures me that you are receiving these letters. Why don’t you answer me, my love? Please write to me. How can you forget our sweet love in Paris? My love burns inside of me. Please put out my fire.

Your Love, Celia


December 18, 1934

Dear Victor,
I fear that you have strayed from my love. Was it not enough to keep you warm? Where did I go wrong? I still love you so, my darling. I am so grief stricken to think you will never answer my letters, that I may never see you again and kiss your sweet lips as I did in Paris. I feel like such a fool. But I still love you. I will always love you. Please say that you love me too. I will understand
if you explain why you have not written me. Is there another in your heart? How could you betray our love? Victor, I am a doctor. I don’t believe that you would treat me like this. Please write me at least once, so that we can say goodbye.

I am having your child. Surely that must mean something to you. Please, darling, write to me. I love you so much.

Your Love, Celia


March 22, 1935

Dear Victor,
Our baby boy was born today. He looks just like you. I love him very much, but I cannot keep him. It would destroy my father’s reputation and bring disgrace on my family. Mavis is moving to Atlanta. She will bring up our baby as her own. I will never stop loving you or believing that you will one day be mine.

Your Love, Celia


“Mavis! Mavis! Where are you?!?” screamed young Percel over the stair banister. “Get up here!” Mavis ran up the stairs to the attic. As soon as she entered the room, she knew what had happened. Why had she kept those letters all these years? What sense had it made to be a go-between to Celia and Victor? All she had to do was tell Celia about Victor years ago.

But Celia would never give him up, no matter what. She would go to her grave loving a faded memory of two weeks of love in a Paris flat. Victor didn’t want to hear from Celia and if Mavis pressured him with those letters, he wouldn’t want to hear from her either. And she needed Victor. After all, he was Percel’s father. He should be allowed to see his son. But Celia was another matter. That was over. There was never anything, anyway. But Mavis wanted to hold on to both of them— Celia and Victor—and that was her way to do it. Now she had to face her son. What could she say to him?

Young Percel spoke first. “Celia is my mother? And Victor—the one who comes here to see you
when he’s in port, the merchant seaman—he’s my father? And the dentist, Celia’s father, is my grandfather? The old man who talked me into becoming a dentist?!” Mavis stood there with tears rolling down her cheeks, nodding “yes” to Percel’s questions. “But Mavis, why did you do it this way— lies and deceit? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just stay out of it?” he asked her.

“No, I couldn’t. I needed all of them. You know I have my problems, and Celia was always so condescending towards me. She always controlled me. Funny, she never took anything but she could always get it from her father’s drug cabinet for me.”

“And what about Victor? What did you really need him for?”

“He was my boyfriend before Celia, but he was married and had three children. It was useless. He would never leave his wife. He came to see us because I told him you were his son.”

“Why does Celia think he’s a lawyer?”

“He told her that. He went to law school but he could never get a job as a lawyer. He tried—you know how hard it is for us colored people. He had to make a living, so he told Celia what she wanted to hear. Everybody felt threatened by Celia and her family. Only Cee Cee was bearable in that house. She was the only one who was real and she’s nuts.”

“What is it you’re on, Mavis?”
“It’s morphine, a mild dose.”
“Does Victor bring it to you?”
“No, he only brings me cocaine when he goes to Turkey or South America.” “How much of this does Celia know?”

“She doesn’t know anything about Victor. She still loves him. She believes he’ll come back to her one day.”

“And the dentist and Cee Cee? Do they know?”

“Yes. The dentist went to see Victor when he found out Celia was pregnant and planning to have the baby, and threatened to kill him if he ever came near his daughter again. He also threatened his job on the ship. He has connections.”

“So, what do we do now, Mavis? Whom do I call ‘Mother’?”

“You just leave everything as it is. They are all very proud of you—now that I have raised you and you are a dentist. You’re like them. They want you now, but I don’t want you to leave me. I am your mother. I have no one but you. Remember that.”

The Lover’s Trilogy #2: Sleeping, 1986

Acrylic on canvas with pieces fabric border
Courtesy the artist and ACA Galleries, New York


Someday I’ll tell Luther. But not now. After he’s home a while and the nightmares stop. Last night it was awful. Luther threw himself out of the bed and pounded his fists into the carpet, turned over the night table, and smashed the lamp.


And you think I should tell him the twins are not his? That the family resemblance he sees is his brother, Larry, not him. He would kill me. You haven’t heard the worst of his nightmares.


But I am not afraid of him because he always comes out of it when he hears me scream his name and realizes that he is home in bed with me; and that the war is over and that I am not the enemy.


That was the day the twins were conceived. I know that twins aren’t his because he can’t have children. He knows that too. It’s a family secret so nobody talks about it, but Luther has something wrong with him, a childhood injury.


They thought Luther was too perfect for love.


I woke up and found him with his face buried in his bleeding hands. He was weeping and shaking uncontrollably, pleading with someone not to kill us.


Most of the time he is the killer and he has his hands around my throat. Or he is flailing the air with my comb like it is a machete and calling me a “yellow-livered-son-of-a-bitch.” And he is screaming, “Take this for squealing you stinkin’ murderin’ scum.”


Luther loves me. I know he loves me. And as long as he doesn’t know what I did to him he’ll keep on loving me.


What would happen if one night he woke up and realized that I am the enemy; that while he was in Korea I was back here sleeping with his brother; that the day we got married I slept with his brother.


His mother told me before I married him that he would never have children. She thought that would keep me from marrying him. She even had his doctor there to confirm it. Unethical? Sure. But some people will do anything to prove a point.


They never thought I’d marry Luther for love, or that we really had loved each other from the first moment we met. And after all these years–the war, and everything else–we still loved each other.


Luther believes the twins were a miracle, and I let him believe it. Larry will never tell him otherwise. He enjoys the secret too much.


Larry hates Luther for being the good one. Luther is an angel always helping someone. His life is a mission of mercy. Everyone loves him for being so good. And now that we have a church of our own it won’t be long before the war will stop for him and he’ll sleep nights in peace.


But if I tell him about Larry and me it will destroy him.


It’s my secret. I may just have to die with it.

Coming to Jones Road Part 2: Martin Luther King Jr. Tanka #3: I Have a Dream, 2010

Acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric
Courtesy the artist and ACA Galleries, New York


Martin Luther King I have a dream speech Aug 28, 1963


I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.


I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.


I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice…


I have a dream that my four little children will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…


I have a dream today…


Martin Luther King 1929–1968, Atlanta, Georgia

Coming to Jones Road Part 2: Sojourner Truth Tanka #2: Ain’t I A Woman?, 2010

Acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric
Courtesy the artist and ACA Galleries, New York


Ain’t I a woman? Sojourner Truth 1851 Akron, Ohio


… That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place. And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me. And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children and seen most all sold off to slavery and when I cried out with my Mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?… Then that man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

Coming to Jones Road Part 2: Harriet Tubman Tanka #1: Escape to Freedom, 2010

Acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric
Courtesy the artist and ACA Galleries, New York


Harriet Tubman


In 1849 I set out with my two brothers on my first escape to freedom. We had only the North Star to guide us. My two brothers became frightened and turned back, but I continued on and reached Philadelphia. There I found work as a household servant and saved my money so I could return to help others escape to freedom. I brought more than 300 slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad in nineteen trips and never lost a passenger. There was one of two things I had a right to Liberty or Death. If I could not have one, I would have the other, for no man should take me alive.

Harriet Tubman 1820–1913 Auburn, New York

Coming to Jones Road Part II #7: Our Secret Wedding in The Woods, 2010

Acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric

Baz Family Collection


Whenever I feel sad I think about the day Barn Door and me got married in the Secret Church in the Woods–Then I forget to be sad It was Aunt Emmy who took us to the Secret Church in the Woods when she and Uncle Tate got married. Barn Door and me were there but we were too young to know it was a secret. Everyone was so quiet we couldn’t hear what they were saying. For our wedding, Aunt Emmy made all our clothes and got the same preacher who married her and Uncle Tate to marry me and Barn Door. That day was a dream. I never thought we would have no preacher weddin’ in the woods. On our wedding I was cryin’ and praying we wouldn’t be caught. Everybody was cryin’ like somebody died. It was hard to be happy at our secret wedding then, but not now.

Transcripciones de la colchas narrativas (Español)

Bailando en el Louvre: La colección francesa, parte I, n.º 1, 1991

Acrílico sobre lienzo, recortes de tela impresa y teñida por reserva, y tinta
Gund Gallery, Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio. Obsequio de David Horvitz ’74 y Francie Bishop Good, 2017.5.6

  1. Querida tía Melissa:

Marcia y sus tres nenas me llevaron a bailar al Louvre. Pensé que las estaba llevando a ver la Mona Lisa. Nunca has visto algo como esto. Bueno, tampoco los franceses. Olvidados quedaron Leonardo da Vinci y la Mona Lisa: Marcia y sus tres nenas se convirtieron en el show.

  1. Me dejaron muerta. Marcia quería ir para un lado y las nenas para otro. La más chiquita quería saltar. La otra quería correr, y lo hizo. Luego todas comenzaron a bailar, y finalmente encontramos la Mona Lisa.
  2. Pierre solía decir, “Cherchez le fauteuil roulant, toma una silla de ruedas en la puerta del Louvre, porque, si no, vas a necesitar una de regreso a casa”. Visité el Louvre un millón de veces, pero nunca lo había visto de este modo. Fue como ver los cuadros patas arriba desde un auto de carreras a 100 kilomètres à l’heure.
  3. Ahora que Marcia se casó con Maurice y se han mudado a París, ella y sus hijas han decidido hablar le bon Français parfaitement por la mañana. Tuve que ponerme firme en cuanto a lo que respecta a mí y a los chicos. Sabes cómo es con los amigos; todos quieren decirte quién creen que eres, cómo debes vivir tu vida y por qué.
  4. Bueno, le dije sin vueltas, “Marcia, sabes muy bien que tu papá no pasó de tercer grado”. Y eso era mucho en aquella época, porque no se suponía que algo así fuera para él. Pero mi papá era director de escuela. Terminó en la Lincoln Academy de Lynnsville. Tengo el diploma que lo prueba.
  5. Mi papá dio clases en Florida, Carolina del Sur y Georgia. Tengo todas sus licencias y exámenes. Mi papá y mi mamá eran maestros. Nosotros no aparecimos como la mala hierba. Tampoco digo que ella sí. Pero no me gusta que me diga que mis hijos estarían mejor en Francia. Y que yo debería criarlos, no tú.
  6. Papá nunca dejó entrar a los chicos Campbell a nuestro patio. Chauncey, Buba y Percy, los hermanos de Marcia sí podían venir. Ahora digo que tenía razón, porque papá était un esnob. Pero recuerdo a papá, con el pequeño abrigo a rayas que solía usar y los lentes en la punta de la nariz.
  7. Papá tenía su personalidad. “No, joven, usted sale de este patio. Las chicas Simone están haciendo sus tareas y deben estudiar, cenar e irse a la cama. Allez vous en!”. Luego agitaba la cola de su abrigo como si fuera un punto final y se daba vuelta al mismo tiempo. Y los chicos Campbell salían corriendo de nuestro patio.
  8. A papá tampoco le gustaba demasiado Marcia, pero ella siempre tuvo sus modos, pensaba que era très chic. Marcia no recuerda para nada haber crecido pobre en Atlanta. Si le preguntas, nació en una cabina de primera clase del S.S. Liberté camino a París, bebiendo Möet y fumando un Gauloise.
  9. Deberías escuchar la historia que nos contó sobre cómo solía poner la mesa para la cena con cubiertos de plata y cristal todas las noches, porque su padre se enojaba si llegaba a casa y la mesa no estaba puesta con formalidad. Estábamos en la fiesta de París y su esposo, Maurice, estaba presente, así que simplemente asentí.
  10. Pero recuerdo la vez que vimos que los chicos Campbell salían por la puerta trasera de la señorita Baker cargados de comida. Dijeron que estaban limpiando el congelador y que la comida se había echado a perder. Más tarde la señorita Baker vino llorando y le dijo a papá que había desaparecido toda la comida de su congelador. Papá le hizo un lugar en nuestra mesa a la Srta. Baker y se fue directo a la casa de Marcia.

12. Y allí estaban los señores Campbell y sus tres hijos sentados a oscuras alrededor de la mesa de la cocina, comiendo la comida de la señorita Baker. Cuando entró papá, comenzaron a toser y a atragantarse. Casi se ahogan. Salvo Mademoiselle Marcia. Papá dijo que ella estaba en el porche trasero tomando un cristal de limonade y leyendo Madame Bovary.

Boda en el Sena: La colección francesa, parte I, n.º 2, 1991

Acrílico sobre lienzo, recortes de tela impresa y teñida por reserva, y tinta
Colección privada


  1. o podría decir, corrí comme un dératé, como alma que lleva el diablo. Solo podía pensar en una cosa. Sal de esta iglesia y toma un poco de aire. No importa lo que piense esta gente. Corre, chica, corre. Hacia el río, tan rápido como puedas. Deshazte de las flores, del velo y del vestido de cola. ¿Qué es esto? ¿Un funeral?
  2. Solo he estado en París durante seis meses. Vine para ser une artiste, no una esposa. Ni siquiera sé hablar el idioma. Pierre es estadounidense con padres franceses, entonces habla l’Anglaise et le Français parfaitement, aunque adora todo lo estadounidense, le plus noir que possible. ¿Pero qué hay de su familia y sus amigos?
  3. Hay algo en el modo en que me miran, como si dijeran: ¿Cómo llegaste tan lejos de casa, l’enfant? ¿Te unirás a la civilización o seguirás siendo solo una bella salvaje vestida a la parisina? Los franceses piensan que ellos son por excelencia la civilización. ¿Pero qué pasa con la Bastilla, la colaboración con el nazismo, la revolución haitiana y la argelina?
  4. Son capaces de matarte con una copa de vino alzada para un brindis. Vive la France! Y estarás tan muerta como si te hubieran cortado el cuello en un callejón de Harlem por 25 centavos y una botella de cerveza. ¿Será que no creo su farsa porque soy una pequeña chica negra de Harlem?
  5. ¿Por qué me casé con este francés? Apenas lo conocía. Tiene más del doble de mi edad y es blanco. Tenemos muy poco en común. Il sera un bon mari. Il est très riche et généreux. Todos dijeron. “Serás muy feliz con él, querida mía. Su familia ha estado en París por tres generaciones. Es prácticamente francés”.
  6. La procesión de la boda me pisaba los talones. Pierre iba atrás de todo, agotado y apenas pudiendo respirar. Ne l’arrêtez pas d’aller! Elle reviendra. Elle est le mienne maintenant. “Deja que se vaya. Volverá. Es mía”. Corrí aún más rápido. “Pierre será un estupendo marido”, me gritó alguien. ¿O me convertirá en su sombra?
  7. ¿Podré ser artiste y esposa? “Puedes instalar un taller en París o en nuestro castillo del sur”, dijo Pierre. Pero no sé siquiera si soy capaz de pintar. Ahora puede que nunca lo sepa. Corrí aún más rápido por las estrechas calles hacia la Ille de la Cité, pasé por la catedral de Notre Dame y crucé el Pont-Neuf mirando al Sena.
  8. Podría haber corrido por siempre. La procesión de la boda me estaba alcanzando. Debía dejar en claro mi postura. Algo más que “obedezco” y “acepto”. Porque no lo acepto, ¡no lo aceptaré! Arrojé mi ramo al río y cayó en el Bateaux Mouche; la multitud de turistas miraron hacia arriba y me aplaudieron con un Vive la France!
  9. Dejé en claro mi postura. ¿Sería la última vez que lo haría? Dios, no dejes que me hunda como esas flores. Quiero vivir una vida haciendo arte, no bebés ni la comida ni las camas. Miré hacia la procesión de la boda. Estaban inmóviles, expectantes por ver mi próximo paso. Pierre estaba en primera fila. Un hombre envejecido, résolu.
  10. ¿Qué sabe Pierre de mí y de la forma en que me criaron en nuestro pequeñísimo departamento de Harlem? ¿Comprende lo que sacrificaron mi madre y mi padre para darme lo poco que me dieron? ¿Sabe que, aunque nuestra vida era austera, era hermosa, y que nos queríamos como si fuéramos ricos?
  11. ¿Qué sé yo de la familia de Pierre y de su vida en el palacete de Fifth Avenue en el que nació en la Ciudad de Nueva York? ¿Quién era la bella chica negra que le cambiaba los pañales y lo cuidaba? ¿Se parecía a mí? Cuando me abraza y me dice cuánto me ama, ¿son los recuerdos de ella los que le hacen temblar la voz?
  12. ¿Nuestros hijos serán franceses? ¿O chicos de color que hablarán en francés? ¿Y por qué he esperado a que sea demasiado tarde para plantearme estas preguntas? ¿Es porque las respuestas no son tan importantes como l’amour? Cualquiera sea la razón, sé que me ama. Pero esa no es una razón para huir.
  13. Después supe que Pierre tenía una enfermedad cardíaca grave y que le quedaban pocos años más de vida. Con razón nunca tuve que soportar una amante. Tenía assez d’amour seulement pour moi. Estuvimos juntos hasta que la muerte nos separó. No hubo demasiado tiempo para el arte ni para ninguna otra cosa más que estar con Pierre, dos bebés, uno por año, y después…
  14. Estaba otra vez en el Sena, sin flores ni aplausos ni una procesión de boda persiguiéndome. Recordaba el día de nuestra boda. Tenían razón: Pierre era un bon mari. ¿Pero me dejaría sola? ¿Podría dedicarme al arte? En solo tres años, Pierre murió, y me dejó sola con mi arte y mis dos bebés.

Reunión para confeccionar una colcha de girasoles en Arlés: La colección francesa, parte I, n.º 4, 1991

Acrílico sobre lienzo, recortes de tela impresa y teñida por reserva, y tinta
Colección Oprah Winfrey


  1. La Sociedad Nacional de Costureras de Colchas de Girasoles de Estados Unidos se están reuniendo para confeccionar colchas en campos de girasoles de todo el mundo para promover la causa de la libertad. La tía Melissa me ha escrito para contarme sobre esto y dice: “Ve con ellas a los campos de girasoles de Arlés. Y por favor cuida de ellas en ese país extranjero, Willia Marie. Estas mujeres son nuestra libertad”, escribió.
  2. Hoy llegaron las mujeres a Arlés. Son Madame Walker, Sojourner Truth, Ida Wells, Rosa Parks, Mary McLeod Bethune y Ella Baker, una fortaleza del coraje de mujeres africanas estadounidenses, con energía suficiente para transformar la nación paulatinamente.
  3. Mira lo que han hecho, a pesar de su opresión: Madame Walker inventó el peine alisador de cabello y se convirtió en la primera mujer millonaria nacida en Estados Unidos que se hizo a sí misma. Tuvo más de 3000 empleados. Sojourner Truth abogó de manera brillante en favor de los derechos de las mujeres durante la esclavitud, a pesar de que no sabía ni leer ni escribir. Ida Wells denunció el horror de los linchamientos en el Sur.
  4. Fannie Lou Hamer hizo frente a perros policía, chorros de agua, palizas brutales y la prisión para poder inscribir a miles de personas en el registro de votantes. Durante la esclavitud, Harriet Tubman trasladó a más de 300 esclavos hacia la libertad en 19 viajes desde el sur en el ferrocarril subterráneo, y jamás perdió a un pasajero. Rosa Parks se convirtió en la madre del movimiento por los derechos civiles en Estados Unidos cuando se sentó en la parte delantera de un autobús segregado y se negó a moverse hacia la parte de atrás.
  5. Mary McLeod Bethune fundó el Bethune Cookman College, fue asesora especial de los presidentes Harry Truman y Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Ella Baker organizó a miles de personas para mejorar las condiciones de vivienda deficientes, las condiciones de trabajo y la educación de los consumidores. El viaje a Arlés fue para terminar La colcha de los girasoles, un símbolo internacional de la dedicación de estas mujeres para cambiar el mundo.
  6. El pintor holandés Vincent van Gogh vino a ver a estas mujeres cosiendo en los campos de girasoles.

“¿Quién es este hombre tan extraño?”, preguntaron ellas.
“Es un grande peintre”, les dije, “aunque está muy perturbado mentalmente”. Él sostenía un florero con girasoles, sin duda une nature morte, una naturaleza muerta, para una de sus pinturas.

  1. “Es muy parecido al hombre que me pegó en la cabeza con una piedra cuando era chica”, dijo Harriet. “Haz que se vaya. Me recuerda a los esclavistas”. Pero él no se movía. Como uno de los girasoles, parecía crecer del suelo. Sojourner lloró sobre las costuras de su colcha por la pérdida de sus trece hijos, la mayoría vendidos como esclavos.
  2. Una de las hijas de Sojourner fue vendida a un esclavo neerlandés en las Indias Orientales, quien después se la llevó a los Países Bajos. “¿Este neerlandés podrá saber algo de eso? Debería pagar por todo el sufrimiento que nos generó su pueblo. Estoy preocupada por ti, Willia Marie. ¿Es este un ambiente natural para una mujer negra?” Preguntó Sojourner.
  3. “Vine a Francia en busca de una oportunidad”, dije. “Para mí no es posible ser artista en Estados Unidos”.

“Todas somos artistas. Nuestro arte es unir retazos. Lo trajimos directamente de África”, dijeron. “Era lo que hacíamos después de un arduo día de trabajo en los campos para mantener la cordura y la cama caliente, y para darle belleza a nuestra vida. Eso no era ser artistas. Eso era mantenernos vivas”.

  1. Cuando bajó el sol y fue el momento de partir, el pequeño hombre atormentado se encerró en sí mismo y adoptó la apariencia de los girasoles que estaban en el campo, como si fuera uno de ellos. Las mujeres habían terminado de unir sus retazos.

“A veces, es necesario parar y oler las flores”, dijeron. “Ahora podemos dedicarnos a nuestra verdadera labor, nuestro arte real: reconstruir el mundo”.

  1. “Debo volver a las vías del ferrocarril”, dijo Harriet. “Aún no somos todos libres, sin importar las leyes que aprueben. Sojourner lucha por los derechos de las mujeres. Fannie, por la inscripción en el registro de votantes. Ella y Rosa trabajan en favor de los derechos civiles. Ida está atenta para que no linchen más hombres. Mary Bethune les consigue educación a nuestros jóvenes, y Madame hace dinero arreglando cabelleras y nos da trabajo. Señor, sin duda estamos ocupadas”.
  2. “Estoy tan agradecida a mi tía Melissa, por haberme enviado estas mujeres”, dije. “El arte jamás podrá cambiar algo como lo han hecho ustedes. Pero puede ofrecer una imagen para que todo el mundo lo vea y conozca nuestra verdadera historia y cultura, a partir del arte. Algún día haré que ustedes también se sientan orgullosas de mí. Solo esperen y verán”.

“Lo vemos, Willia Marie” dijeron. “Lo vemos”.

En la playa en St. Tropez: La colección francesa, parte I, n.º 8, 1991

Acrílico sobre lienzo, recortes de tela impresa y teñida por reserva, y tinta
Colección Ed Bradley y Patricia Blanchet


  1. La playa es donde voy a observar hombres. Me gusta ver los rostros de mis hombres en los cuerpos de otros hombres. J’aime l’amour, Pierrot. La playa es mi lugar para repasar ese aspecto de mi vida. Pero tú, hijo mío, eres mon amour de la verité. Tú y tu hermana son la sangre de mi sangre, mi vida. Estos hombres son solo mi fantasía, ma fragilité.
  2. Amar es como poner la mano en una estufa caliente: puede quemarte. Estuve muy cerca de un hombre que había conocido en el barco de viaje hasta aquí. Me cuidó cuando extrañaba a mi madre. Me hubiera casado con él en lugar de con tu padre, pero me abandonó. Il m’aime complètement. Quizá porque duró tan solo un instante.
  3. Casi cualquier cosa fugaz puede ser buena. Él sabía eso. Yo no. Pierrot, hijo mío, hoy ya eres un hombre con tu propia familia. Intenta comprenderme. Crecí sabiendo que mi destino era estar al servicio de los otros, en la cocina, en la cama. De repente, a los 16, era una artista viviendo en París.
  4. Me escapé de los campos de algodón de Georgia y de las callecitas de Harlem para vivir como une artiste en París. Tuve una vida más plena de lo que jamás hubiera podido imaginar. Los franceses decían que yo era hermosa, Pierrot. Me llamaban “Mademoiselle Précieuse”. En Estados Unidos, hubiera sido otra maldita negra con una escoba y una casa llena de niños con pañales en la cabeza.
  5. A veces incluso olvido quién soy y de dónde vengo. Puede que para los franceses sea una bella princesa negra o una exótica reina del Nilo, pero me recuerdan todo el tiempo que no soy francesa. No soy blanca; de hecho, soy muy negra. Y muy diferente. En Estados Unidos, quizá me odien por eso. En Francia, alcanza para que me señalen y me digan différente.
  6. Ser diferente significa mucho en Francia, donde todos son descendientes de Luis XIV ou XVI, o quien quiera que fuera la realeza aristocrática más grand et royal. Pero yo escapé de las garras de Jim Crow de Estados Unidos. Por eso sonrío cuando me dicen “princesa negra”, porque recuerdo que en el pasado me decían “maldita negra”.
  7. Cuando llegué a París en 1920, tenía 16 años, Pierrot. Había muchos artistas negros aquí cuando llegué: pintores, escritores y músicos, todos en busca de una oportunidad. Algunos habían llegado con una mano delante y otra detrás, con solo cinco dólares en el bolsillo. Pero yo tenía 500 dólares, que en 1920 era mucho dinero. Me los había dado mi tía Melissa.
  8. “Ve a París y demuéstrame que ha valido la pena darte hasta el último centavo que tengo para que te conviertas en una artista”, me dijo. Pero estaba mintiendo. La tía Melissa siempre tiene más para dar. Se sentiría orgullosa si viera mis obras. Sé que estaría orgullosa de saber que aquí me dejaron ser una artista, aunque no podría decir que fueron ellos los que me convirtieron en una.
  9. Me esforcé mucho para alcanzar lo que logré como artista. Aquí nadie te regala una carrera de artista. Llegué a París sin amigos y siendo una niña ignorante. También conocí a Pierre Padre, tu padre, en el barco. Pierre Padre había nacido en Estados Unidos, pero tanto su madre como su padre eran franceses. Le gusté al instante y, a pesar de que yo no lo amaba, se negó a perderme.
  10. Eres un niño tan bonito, hijo mío, y si quieres juzgarme, es tu elección. Pero eso nos haría triste a los dos. No puedo cambiar mi pasado ni el tuyo. Detesto la crítica. De nada sirve ser juzgada al final de tu vida, cuando ya no hay tiempo de cambiar. Debemos aprender a cambiar todo lo que sea amer à doux, amargo a dulce.
  11. Tal vez las personas quieran que te culpes a ti mismo tanto como ellos te culpan a ti. Pero no dejes que te convenzan de que mereces esa culpa. Sin importar cuántos errores cometas. Si intentas hacer algo, los errores no son tu culpa, pero debes ser lo suficientemente hombre como para hacerte responsable de ellos.
  12. “Si algo me sucede, haz tu arte”, dijo tu padre justo antes de morir. “Tú puedes, Willia Marie, mi reina. Te amo a ti y a mis hijos. No olvides decírselo. Pide ayuda a la tía Melissa para criar a nuestros hijos. Ella vendrá a vivir a Francia”.
  13. “Pero no regreses a Estados Unidos. Hacerlo te destruiría a ti y a los niños, y arruinaría todo lo que quiero para ti”. Cuando Pierre murió, el trámite con los abogados fue muy engorroso, la bureaucratie et paperasse francesa, las formalidades. Necesitaba tiempo para encontrarme a mí misma. Hacer el duelo como correspondía. La tía Melissa nunca quiso vivir en el extranjero. Vino y te llevó a ti y a Marlena de regreso a Estados Unidos, a vivir con ella. Y yo los dejé ir.
  14. No pude hacer otra cosa, hijo mío. ¿Es tan difícil de comprender? Sé que no me has hecho esta pregunta. Pero yo sí: Est-ce que tu m’aime? Je t’aime, los amo a ti y a Marlena con toda el alma.

Le Café des Artistes: La colección francesa, parte II, n.º 11, 1994

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Mesas delanteras, de izquierda a derecha: William H. Johnson, Archibald Motley, Willia Marie Simone, Elizabeth Catlett, Lois Mailou Jones, Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Edmonia Lewis, Faith Ringgold

Mesas centrales, de izquierda a derecha: Sargent Johnson, Romare Bearden, Aaron Douglas, Henry O. Tanner, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Augusta Savage

Mesas traseras, de izquierda a derecha: Ed Clark, Raymond Saunders, Jacob Lawrence, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Maurice Utrillo


  1. Querida tía Melissa:

Pierre me dejó como propietaria de un café de París, Le Café des Artistes, le rendezvous des arts et des lettres. Se encuentra en el Boulevard des Saint Germain des Prés frente a la iglesia, en el corazón del barrio de los artistas.

  1. Ahora estoy aquí todos los días. El café es muy famoso. Todos los sábados a la noche se llena de le plus gai et le plus curieux de París. Hoy, en las mesas se escucha el murmullo de la clientela habitué de artistas y escritores, quienes beben lentamente un café crème y construyen la historia del arte aquí, delante de nuestros ojos.
  2. Pierre estaría orgulloso de mis colaboraciones con los artistas y los escritores. Pero todavía tengo sentimientos encontrados. A veces me siento una de ellos, y otras veces que no pertenezco. Siento que ahora tengo palabras para decir lo que ya no puede esperar.
  3. Hoy publicaré el manifiesto de arte y política de la mujer de color. ¿Qué diría Pierre sobre esto? Su introvertida esposa de 20 años se dirige a los artistas y escritores más grandes del siglo. Si Pierre estuviera vivo, creo que no estaría haciendo esto. Pero él no está aquí, y yo sí.
  4. Madames y monsieurs, dije, ¿me dan su atención, por favor? Estamos en una época trascendental para la historia del arte moderno y estoy muy contenta de estar en París, el epicentro del cambio e intercambio cultural. “Es un placer tener a una persona tan bella entre nosotros, Madame Willia Marie. Bonne chère noire”.
  5. Como los simbolistas, dadaístas, surrealistas y cubistas, tengo un anuncio que hacer, por lo que les ruego me presten un momento de su atención. Este es el “Manifiesto de arte y política de la mujer de color”. “Las mujeres deberían quedarse en la casa y hacer niños, no arte”. “Soulard, alcoolique. ¡Vete a tu casa!”. “¡Silencio! ¡Taisez-vous!”.
  6. Soy una mujer internacional y de color. Mis raíces africanas se remontan al origen de la humanidad, 9 millones de años atrás en Etiopía. Europa Occidental robó el arte y la cultura de África, y mi gente ha sido colonizada, esclavizada y olvidada.
  7. Lo ancestral se ha vuelto nuevo. Lo que una vez fue negro, hoy se ha convertido en blanco. Como el poema de protesta “We wear the mask” (“Usamos la máscara”), pero con un concepto nuevo en el arte cubista. “Pero estás influenciada por el impresionismo francés”. “No, por el expresionismo alemán”. El arte moderno no es ni de ustedes ni mío. Es nuestro.
  8. El arte actual se nutre tanto de las máscaras africanas de mis antepasados como de sus estatuas griegas. “No, su influencia fue el fovismo, Madame Willia Marie”. ¿Y quién creó la primera obra de arte… tal vez un muñeco para un niño no nacido? Sin duda, fue una mujer.
  9. “Eres primitiva, pero muy bella”. Los artistas de París están moldeando la cultura del mundo con sus ideas. Pero el arte moderno no solo existe en Europa Occidental o París. Yo estoy aquí (en París). Yo estoy allí (en África) también. Por eso presento este “Manifiesto de arte y política de la mujer de color”.
  10. “Deberías aprender sobre cocina francesa, te ayudará a combinar tus couleurs”. “No, ella tiene couleur de nacimiento. Es muy primitiva”. Convocaré a un Congreso de Mujeres Artistas Afroestadounidenses en París para proponer que se traten dos asuntos. ¿Cuál es la imagen de la mujer de color en el arte? ¿Y qué propósito tenemos como artistas modernas?
  11. No se puede producir ningún cambio modernista importante sin la presencia de la mujer de color. “Su paleta de colores es muy estridente, debería desarrollar una sutil gama de grises”. Hoy me convertí en una mujer con ideas propias. Las ideas son mi libertad. Y es por la libertad que me convierto en una artista.
  12. Lo importante para la mujer de color es recordar que debemos hablar, para que por fin escuchen y conozcan nuestras ideas y a nosotras. El café es mi académie, mi galería, mi hogar. Los artistas y los escritores son mis maestros y mis amigos. Pero África es mi arte, mi forma clásica y mi inspiración.
  13. “Ven a mi estudio, Madame Willia Marie. Te mostraré cómo crear una amplia paleta de couleurs y te enseñaré a pintar como una maestra”. “Pero después modelarás para mí, mi doncella africana. ¡Madre de la Tierra! ¡Reina del Nilo!” C’est la vie, querida tía. Es el precio que pago por ser una artista.

El nido amargo, parte III: Amantes en París, 1988

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  1. El nido amargo: Parte III. Amantes en París. Celia dedicó su vida a su padre, a quien veía como una persona desafortunada, un hombre gigante, encerrado en la casa de una mujer loca: la madre de Celia. Celia quería liberarlo de aquella mujer. Intentó que él se interesara en actividades que excluyeran a Cee Cee, como conferencias y conciertos musicales. Pero el dentista amaba a Cee Cee y no iba a ningún lado sin ella.
  2. Hasta intentó que quisiera tener un encuentro amoroso con una hermosa amiga de ella, una exbailarina de danza en línea que se llamaba Mavis Lewis. Sin embargo, el dentista aprovechó la presentación entre ellos para pedirle a Mavis que organizara una fiesta donde le presentara a Celia hombres jóvenes que fueran buenos candidatos para casarse con ella, para que así pudiera formar una familia propia.
  3. Celia conoció a varios jóvenes encantadores y buenos candidatos para casarse, pero, en comparación con su padre, eran superficiales y aburridos. A excepción de Victor Bell, un joven abogado de Washington, D. C. Celia se enamoró de Victor en una fiesta. Bailaron y conversaron como si se hubieran conocido desde hace años. Fue, sin duda, amor a primera vista.
  4. Regresaron a casa al amanecer, tomados de la mano y riendo, y prometiéndose algún día pasar el resto de sus vidas juntos. Fue la noche más divertida de la vida de Celia. Él le dijo que vivía con su madre inválida en Washington, D. C., y que cuidarla le requería mucho de su tiempo. Por eso, entre cuidar a su madre y trabajar como abogado, no podría volver a verla a Nueva York hasta dentro de varios meses.
  5. Le contó que estaba planeando ir de vacaciones de verano a París y la invitó a ir con él. Él tenía amigos artistas que vivían en París. Ella podría quedarse en su departamento, y su amigo los acompañaría a recorrer París. Si no estaba segura de viajar a París con un hombre, podía llevar a Mavis como acompañante.
  6. A último momento, Victor cambió de planes. No viajaría en el barco transatlántico con Mavis y Celia. Se encontraría con ellas en París a la semana siguiente o un poco después. Tenía cosas urgentes que hacer en Estados Unidos antes de viajar a París. Él les dijo que viajaran y que llegaría tan pronto como pudiera.
  7. Les envió la dirección del departamento de su amigo e instrucciones sobre cómo llegar hasta allí una vez que ya estuvieran en París. Celia y Mavis llegaron al departamento del amigo de Victor y fueron recibidas por un francés. Él las hizo entrar y les dijo que los amigos de Victor estaban de vacaciones en el sur de Francia y que él las llevaría de paseo hasta que llegara Victor.
  8. Mientras Celia desempacaba, el francés llevó a Mavis de recorrida por las tiendas y los cafés de la margen izquierda de la ciudad. Ya sola en el departamento, Celia se desvistió y se paró frente a un gran espejo de cuerpo completo. Mientras admiraba su cuerpo armonioso, vio aparecer a un hombre en la entrada de la habitación contigua. Era Victor. Llevaba solo una boina.
  9. “¿Parlez-vous français, mademoiselle?”, dijo. Conmocionada, asustada, avergonzada y encantada al mismo tiempo, Celia quedó paralizada en el lugar.

“¿Cómo llegaste aquí?”, finalmente logró decir tartamudeando, “Pensé que estabas en Estados Unidos”.

“Pero estoy aquí contigo”, dijo, mientras la tomaba en sus brazos. “Pero no entiendo”, dijo Celia.

  1. “Ya lo entenderás, mi amor”, le murmuró Victor al oído y la arrojó en la cama grande. “¿Alguna vez te había dicho lo mucho que te amo? Eres lo que necesitaba para que mi vida esté completa. Esta vez no dejaré que te escapes de mí. Celia, ¿quieres casarte conmigo?”. Antes de que ella pudiera responder, él ya estaba arriba de ella. Esa fue la primera vez que Celia hizo el amor con un hombre.
  2. Fue maravilloso. En ese momento supo que era real lo que había sentido por él, cuando lo conoció en esa fiesta, hacía tantos meses. Lo amaba y él la amaba a ella, y quería casarse con ella. Que durmieran juntos estaba bien. Estaban demasiado enamorados como para no hacerlo. Todo era perfecto, todo en su vida, excepto Cee Cee.
  3. ¿Cómo podía estar pensando en Cee Cee en un momento como ese? Pero, ¿y la madre de él? Era una inválida. Dependía de él. Bueno, tendría que acostumbrarse a la idea de que Victor tenía una madre inválida. Después de todo, ¿acaso él no tendría que acostumbrarse a Cee Cee? Mavis y el francés los dejaron solos durante las semanas siguientes.
  4. El francés vivía en el departamento contiguo, por lo que Mavis se quedó allí con él. Las cosas no podrían haber salido mejor si lo hubieran planeado. De un día para el otro, una mañana, Victor se fue como había aparecido; sin avisar. En su almohada había una nota: Querida Celia, mi amor, no pude decírtelo, pero el estado de salud de mi madre ha empeorado mucho. Debo ir a verla. Me temo que no estará conmigo mucho más.
  5. Te amo tanto, ansío verte de nuevo en Estados Unidos. Estas semanas contigo en París han sido los días más felices de mi vida. Hasta que nos volvamos a ver, mi amada Celia. Mi esposa. Tuyo siempre, Victor. Pero Celia nunca más volvió a ver a Victor.

El nido amargo, parte IV: La carta, 1988

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Si bien nunca se casó, Celia tuvo un hijo, algo que estaba muy mal visto en una mujer soltera de aquella época. El dentista estaba desconsolado.

“Tener un bebé pero no tener marido es indecente, Celia”, le dijo. “¿Qué dirá la gente?”. Cee Cee preparó una habitación para el bebé en el segundo piso, junto a la habitación de Celia. Lo decoró con colchas y objetos de bebé creados especialmente, hechos con retazos multicolores unidos entre sí y con su inigualable estilo.

Pero el dentista se puso firme. En su casa no viviría ningún bebé. Celia tendría que irse ni bien se empezara a notar su embarazo y no podría volver hasta luego de que el bebé hubiera nacido. Y él organizó todo para que uno de sus pacientes adoptara al bebé. Sin embargo, Celia le pidió a Mavis que se quedara con el bebé y lo criara como propio, con ayuda económica de su familia siempre que la necesitara. Mavis aceptó. A Mavis no le importaba que la gente hablara de ella; de cualquier manera siempre lo hacían. Después de todo, se sentía responsable de que Celia hubiera quedado embarazada. Debió haberle advertido a Celia que Victor era un hombre casado con tres hijos y que su madre había muerto muchos años antes de que Celia lo conociera. Él le había estado mintiendo a Celia. Todo lo que había dicho era mentira. Solo quería conquistarla. Su objetivo había sido que la Dra. Celia fuera a París y se acostara con él. Había hecho una apuesta al respecto. El francés se quedó con el dinero. Victor les ganó varios cientos de dólares a los miembros de la tripulación por esa apuesta. Victor era marino mercante. El francés y Victor eran chefs en el mismo barco transatlántico. Pero Mavis le ahorró a Celia esos detalles de su encuentro amoroso en París. Era mejor que creyera que él un día volvería y navegarían hasta París para retomar lo que habían empezado. El verdadero amor prevalecería.

Celia tuvo un varón. Le puso como su propio padre, Percel Trombone Lewis. Lewis era el apellido de Mavis. Mavis crio al pequeño Percel haciéndole creer que ella era su madre biológica y que su padre había sido un marino que había muerto en el mar. Mavis y el joven Percel se mudaron a Atlanta, Georgia. Allí tenía familiares y, por medio de Celia, consiguió trabajo como recepcionista de un médico. El joven Percel se convirtió en un buen hombre de Atlanta, se graduó en la Universidad de Atlanta y se mudó a Meharie a estudiar medicina. Tiempo después, dejó la medicina y se pasó a la odontología.

El destino quiso que el joven Percel, mientras buscaba algo en los viejos baúles de Mavis que estaban en el ático, encontrara un prolijo atado de cartas, todas escritas mucho tiempo atrás, destinadas a un hombre llamado Victor.


2 de julio de 1934

Querido Victor:
París fue maravilloso. No sé si eres un canalla o un ángel, pero te amo. Te deseo hoy más que nunca. Fuiste el primer hombre al que amé después de mi padre. Me recuerdas a él, en muchos sentidos. Eres alto y apuesto, y amable y bueno. Y te amo tanto como lo amo a él.
En París la gente nos miraba fijamente, estábamos tan enamorados. Dos negros en París, besándose a orillas del Siena. ¿Recuerdas cuando quisieron tomarnos una foto? Y tú te enojaste. ¿Cómo hago para vivir sin ti?

¿Hablabas en serio aquella primera noche en París, cuando me propusiste casamiento? Puedo esperarte, mi querido. ¿Pero cuánto tiempo? Cada día te deseo más y más. Mis mejores deseos a tu madre. Espero que ella esté bien.

Tu amor, Celia


18 de agosto de 1934

Querido Victor:
Todavía te estoy esperando, mi amado. Aquellas hermosas semanas de amor que compartimos en París me llenan de alegría. No he sabido de ti desde que me dejaste esa noche en París. Realmente espero que tu madre esté bien. Dale recuerdos de mi parte para que se recupere lo antes posible.

Escríbeme pronto. Tengo algo muy importante que contarte, mi amado. Mi amor no puede esperar mucho más.

Tu amor, Celia


1.º de septiembre de 1934

Querido Victor:
Amor mío, debo decírtelo. Estoy esperando un bebé tuyo. Si todavía me amas, como sé que lo haces, por favor, ven a mi encuentro. Mi padre dice que me usaste, pero yo sé que tu dulce amor fue real. Está muy decepcionado de mí. Demuéstrale que me amas y que fuiste sincero cuando me propusiste casarnos.

Tengo mucho más para ofrecerte, mucho más que mi amor. Puedo ayudarte con tu ejercicio de la abogacía. Papi acaba de comprar una casa en Seventh Avenue. Es perfecta para nosotros. Podemos usarla como bufete y vivir allí con nuestro bebé. Todo podría ser tan perfecto para nosotros, mi amor.

Si todavía me amas, ven a mi encuentro, y dale un nombre a tu hijo. Mavis me asegura que estás recibiendo estas cartas. ¿Por qué no me respondes, mi amor? Por favor, escríbeme. ¿Cómo puedes olvidarte de nuestro dulce amor en París? Mi amor por ti me quema por dentro. Por favor, apaga este incendio.

Tu amor, Celia


18 de diciembre de 1934

Querido Victor:
Temo que ya no sientas el mismo amor por mí. ¿Mi amor no fue suficiente para que estés a gusto? ¿En qué me equivoqué? Todavía te amo tanto, mi amado. Me destruye pensar que nunca responderás mis cartas, que nunca más te volveré a ver, ni volveré a besar tus dulces labios como lo hice en París. Me siento tan tonta. Pero aún te amo. Siempre te amaré. Dime que tú también me amas, por favor. Entenderé si me explicas por qué nunca me has escrito. ¿Tu corazón le pertenece a otra? ¿Cómo pudiste traicionar nuestro amor? Victor, soy una doctora. No puedo creer que me trates así. Por lo menos respóndeme una vez, para poder decirnos adiós.

Voy a tener un hijo tuyo. Estoy segura de que eso significa algo para ti. Por favor, querido, escríbeme. Te amo tanto.

Tu amor, Celia


22 de marzo de 1935

Querido Victor:
Hoy nació nuestro bebé. Es igual a ti. Lo amo mucho, pero no puedo quedármelo. Destruiría la reputación de mi padre y traería la desgracia a mi familia. Mavis se mudará a Atlanta. Criará a nuestro hijo como si fuera de ella. Nunca te dejaré de amar ni dejaré de creer que algún día serás mío.

Tu amor, Celia


“¡Mavis! ¡Mavis! ¿¡¿Dónde estás?!?”, gritó el joven Percel asomándose por la barandilla de la escalera. “¡Ven aquí arriba!” Mavis subió corriendo las escaleras hasta el ático. Tan pronto entró a la habitación, supo lo que había pasado. ¿Por qué había guardado esas cartas todos estos años? ¿Qué sentido había tenido ser la intermediaria entre Celia y Victor? Debió haberle contado a Celia toda la verdad sobre Victor, hace mucho tiempo atrás.

Pero Celia no lo quería soltar, sin importar lo que le dijera. Moriría amando un recuerdo borroso de dos semanas de amor en un departamento de París. Victor no quería saber nada de Celia y si Mavis lo presionaba con esas cartas, tampoco querría saber nada de ella. Y necesitaba a Victor. Después de todo, él era el padre de Percel. Tenía derecho a ver a su hijo. Pero Celia era otro tema. Eso había terminado. De cualquier manera, nunca había habido nada. Pero Mavis quería mantener vínculo con ambos —Celia y Victor— y esa fue su manera de hacerlo. Ahora debía enfrentarse a su hijo. ¿Qué podía decirle?

El joven Percel habló primero. “¿Celia es mi madre? Y Victor —el hombre que viene a verte
cuando está en puerto, el marino mercante— ¿él es mi padre? Y el dentista, el padre de Celia, ¿es mi abuelo? ¿¡El viejo que me convenció de que estudiara para ser dentista!?” Mavis se quedó parada allí, con lágrimas cayendo sobre sus mejillas, asintiendo a todas las preguntas de Percel. “Pero, Mavis, ¿por qué hiciste esto así, con mentiras y engaños? ¿No hubiera sido más fácil no involucrarte?”, le preguntó.

“No, no podía. Los necesitaba a todos. Tú sabes que tengo mis problemas, y Celia me trató siempre con aires de superioridad. Siempre tuvo control sobre mí. Es curioso que ella nunca tomara nada, pero siempre me conseguía lo que fuera del armario de medicamentos de su padre”.

“¿Y qué hay de Victor? ¿Para qué lo necesitabas?”.

“Él fue mi novio antes de que la conociera a Celia, pero estaba casado y tenía tres hijos. No había caso. Nunca dejaría a su esposa. Venía a vernos porque le dije que tú eras su hijo”.

“¿Por qué Celia cree que él es abogado?”.

“Él le dijo eso. Estudió abogacía pero nunca pudo conseguir trabajo como abogado. Lo intentó; sabes lo difícil que es para nosotros, la gente de color. Tenía que ganarse la vida, así que le dijo a Celia lo que ella quería escuchar. Todos se sentían amenazados por Celia y su familia. La única tolerable en esa casa era Cee Cee. Ella era la única que era sincera, y está loca”.

“¿A qué eres adicta, Mavis?”.
“A la morfina, pero solo a una pequeña dosis”.
“¿Victor te la trae?”.
“No, él solo me trae cocaína cuando viaja a Turquía o Sudamérica”.

“¿Cuánto de todo esto sabe Celia?”.

“No sabe nada acerca de Victor. Todavía lo ama. Ella cree que él volverá algún día”.

“¿Y el dentista y Cee Cee? ¿Ellos saben?”.

“Sí. El dentista fue a ver a Victor cuando se enteró de que Celia estaba embarazada y pensaba tener al bebé, y lo amenazó de muerte si volvía a acercarse a su hija. También lo amenazó con hacer que lo echaran de su trabajo en el barco. Tiene contactos”.

“¿Qué hacemos ahora, Mavis? ¿A quién le digo ‘mamá’?”.

“Deja todo como está. Todos están orgullosos de ti; ahora que ya te crie y eres dentista. Eres como ellos. Ahora te quieren, pero no quiero que me dejes. Soy tu madre. No tengo a nadie más que a ti. Recuerda eso”.

Camino a Jones Road, parte 2: Tanka de Martin Luther King Jr. n.º 3: Tengo un sueño, 2010

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Discurso de Martin Luther King “Tengo un sueño”, 28 de agosto de 1963

Sueño que un día esta nación se pondrá de pie y vivirá el verdadero significado de su credo. Afirmamos que estas verdades son evidentes: que todos los hombres son creados iguales.

Sueño que un día, en las rojas colinas de Georgia, los hijos de los antiguos esclavos y los hijos de los antiguos dueños de esclavos se puedan sentar juntos a la mesa de la hermandad.

Sueño que un día, incluso el estado de Misisipí, un estado que se sofoca con el calor de la opresión, se convertirá en un oasis de libertad y justicia.

Sueño que mis cuatro hijos no serán juzgados por el color de su piel, sino por los rasgos de su personalidad.

Hoy… ¡tengo un sueño!

Martin Luther King 1929-1968, Atlanta, Georgia

Camino a Jones Road, parte 2: Tanka de Sojourner Truth n.º 2: ¿Acaso no soy una mujer?, 2010

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Cortesía de la artista y ACA Galleries, Nueva York


¿Acaso no soy una mujer? Sojourner Truth, 1851, Akron, Ohio

… Ese hombre de allí dice que a las mujeres hay que ayudarlas a subir a los carruajes, hay que alzarlas para cruzar zanjas, y que deben tener la mejor ubicación en todos lados. A mí nadie me ayuda a subir a los carruajes, ni a saltar los charcos de barro, ni me da el mejor lugar. ¿Acaso no soy una mujer? ¡Mírenme! ¡Miren mi brazo! He arado, plantado y recolectado granos, y ningún hombre me pudo superar. ¿Acaso no soy una mujer? Podía trabajar y comer tanto como un hombre cuando tenía la oportunidad, ¡y soportar el látigo también! ¿Acaso no soy una mujer? Di a luz a trece niños y vi a la mayoría de ellos ser vendidos como esclavos y, cuando lloré a gritos el dolor de madre, ¡solo Jesús me escuchó! ¿Acaso no soy una mujer? Y ese hombre vestido de negro que está allí dice que las mujeres no pueden tener los mismos derechos que los hombres porque Cristo no era una mujer. ¿De dónde vino Cristo? ¿De dónde vino Cristo? ¡De Dios y de una mujer! El hombre no tuvo nada que ver con Él.

Camino a Jones Road, parte 2: Tanka de Harriet Tubman n.º 1: Escape a la libertad, 2010

Acrílico sobre lienzo con recortes de tela
Cortesía de la artista y ACA Galleries, Nueva York


Harriet Tubman

En 1849, comenzamos nuestro primer escape hacia la libertad con mis dos hermanos. Solo la Estrella del Norte nos guiaba. Mis dos hermanos se asustaron y regresaron, pero yo seguí y llegué a Filadelfia. Allí encontré trabajo como empleada doméstica y ahorré dinero para poder regresar y ayudar a otros a escapar hacia la libertad. Ayudé a más de 300 esclavos a obtener la libertad por medio del Ferrocarril Subterráneo en diecinueve viajes, y nunca perdí a un pasajero. Tenía derecho a una de dos cosas: la libertad o la muerte. Si no podía tener una, tendría la otra, porque ningún hombre me llevaría viva.

Harriet Tubman 1820-1913, Auburn, Nueva York

Serie feminista n.º 12 de 20: Encontramos al monstruo, 1972

Acrílico sobre lienzo, en tela
Cortesía de la artista y ACA Galleries, Nueva York


Nos topamos con el monstruo del prejuicio en todos lados. No tenemos el poder para luchar contra él. Vivimos bajo una gran opresión. No podemos ascender… buscamos la luz; la pedimos y se nos la niega. ¿Por qué nos tratan así? La causa de esto es el prejuicio.

Clarissa Lawrence (también conocida como Chloe Minns de Salem), Actas de la tercera Convención Nacional de Mujeres Estadounidenses contra la Esclavitud, llevada a cabo en Filadelfia en 1838.

Serie feminista n.º 14 de 20: Hombres de prestigio..., 1972/1993

Acrílico sobre lienzo en tela enmarcada
Cortesía de la artista y ACA Galleries, Nueva York


“La mayoría de los hombres de prestigio han surgido desde la oscuridad; y yo, siendo mujer y de un tono oscuro, y mucho más oscura que ellos, no agacharé la cabeza ni abandonaré mi música; por más que sea pobre, seguiré demostrando cuáles son mis virtudes”.

1 Maria Stewart, 1833, “Llamamiento a los esclavos”

Serie feminista n.º 18 de 20: “Sr. Negro vaya con cuidado...”, 1973/1993

Acrílico sobre lienzo en tela enmarcada
Cortesía de la artista y ACA Galleries, Nueva York


¡Señor Negro, vaya con cuidado! Las reinas de Etiopía gobernarán nuevamente, y sus amazonas protegerán sus costas y a su gente. Fortalezca sus rodillas temblorosas y avance, o lo desplazaremos y seremos nosotras quienes llevaremos la posta hacia la victoria y la gloria.

Amy Jacques Garvey, 1925, Ciudad de Nueva York



Cambio 2: Colcha narrativa sobre la performance de Faith Ringgold al perder más de 45 kilos, 1988

Fotograbado en seda y algodón con recortes de tela impresa y teñida
Cortesía de la artista y ACA Galleries, Nueva York


En 1986 bajé 45 kilos. En 1988 volví a subirlos. ¡No! En 1988, continué buscando mi objetivo de bajar otros 14 kilos. Cambio 2 se trata de intentar bajar 14 kilos. Las canciones y los raps que escribí en esta colcha son parte de la performance de Cambio 2. No puedo cantar ni bailar, y podría tratarse de 14 como de 140 kilos, pero sigo intentándolo. De eso se trata cambiar.


La canción del cambio

Como creo que eres tan buena
Quiero darte un buen consejo
Puede que seas rica o que seas pobre
Que vivas a lo grande
O que te la pases tirada en el suelo
Puede que seas profesora
Con mucho conocimiento para brindar
O solo una niña con mucho que aprender
Puede que seas negra, blanca, roja o amarilla
O de un color intermedio
Puede que seas buena o un poco mezquina
Pero si recuerdas siempre esta frase

Serás una ganadora para el resto de tus días

Primero, párate delante de toda la gente
Ahora, muestra una gran sonrisa

¿Todo el mundo está preparado? ¡Vamos!
Esta es la frase que debes saber
Puedo cambiar, puedo hacerlo
Sigue intentando y lo lograrás
(Se repite)


Década de 1930

Mi madre nos educó para que hiciéramos tres comidas abundantes al día, sin comer más nada entre cada una de ellas. Cuando fui lo suficientemente grande como para tener mi propia cocina, comía tres comidas abundantes al día. Y tres más a la noche. Fue culpa de mi mamá.


Fue culpa de mi mamá

Fue culpa de mi mamá (se repite dos veces)

Come hasta dejar el plato limpio (se repite dos veces)

Y fue así como subí de peso


Fue culpa de mi mamá (se repite dos veces)
Me dijo que comiera para estar fuerte (se repite dos veces)

Mi madre nunca se equivocaba
Fue culpa de mi mamá (se repite dos veces)
Me dijo que había niños que pasaban hambre (se repite dos veces)

Mientras cortaba la carne
Fue culpa de mi mamá (se repite dos veces)
Me servía una montaña de comida (se repite dos veces)
Que llegaba hasta la altura de mis ojos


Fue culpa de mi mamá (se repite dos veces)
Me enseñó a ser obediente (se repite dos veces)

Me decía que me callara y que obedeciera

Fue culpa de mi mamá (se repite tres veces)


Década de 1940

Cuando éramos niños, íbamos caminando a todos lados, para gastarnos el dinero del autobús en barritas de chocolate y conos de helado. Salían cinco centavos y eran más grandes que las que hoy salen un dólar. Si bien ya no me gasto el dinero del autobús en barritas de chocolate, me sigue encantando comer y odio hacer deporte.


Odio hacer ejercicio

Odio hacer ejercicio (se repite dos veces)

A veces caigo en desgracia
Y no hago más que elegir la comida rápida

Mis caderas y muslos adquieren importantes dimensiones

Bandejas de comida desfilan delante de mis ojos

Escucha lo que digo

Cada día es un desafío


Odio profundamente hacer ejercicio (se repite dos veces)

No importa cuán grande sea mi tamaño
Yo simplemente odio hacer ejercicio (se repite dos veces)

No puedo hacerlo

No lo soporto
Siempre temprano para ir a la cama, siempre tarde para salir de ella
Y así es como una mujer pierde la salud y la talla


Ay cariño, odio hacer ejercicio (se repite tres veces)



Década de 1950

En la década de 1950 existían las citas. No de esas en las que te reúnes para comer algo, aunque yo en las mías sí comía. Tenía veintitantos, y el amor estaba en todas partes. Cuando los jóvenes me invitaban a salir, en lugar de flores, me traían sándwiches de chuleta de cerdo. Estaban fritos, costaban 75 centavos y eran mejor que un filete. Eso era lo romántico en la década de 1950, la comida grasosa.


Comida grasosa

Comida grasosa. ¿Es acaso sabrosa?

Te pone grande como un cerdo.
Toda esa grasa
Se vuelve ansiedad. Y te acerca a la tumba.


Comida grasosa. ¿Es acaso sabrosa?
Salsitas con crema. Ensancha caderas.

Papas fritas y hamburguesas. Envuelven tus muslos.

Deliciosas golosinas. Carnes sabrosas.
Son crueles para la parte trasera.
Hacen que tu pancita baile cual gelatina.


Comida grasosa. (Se repite tres veces)

¿Es acaso sabrosa?


Década de 1960

La década de 1960 fue increíble. Descubrí el vino y el queso franceses en París y aprendí a ser una activista en las calles de Nueva York. En casa, mis hijas adolescentes me llevaron a comer costillas de cerdo con vino, con pan y queso, junto con las costillas y los problemas.



Tener problemas te lleva a comer (se repite dos veces)

A correr por las calles
En busca de algo delicioso


Tener problemas te lleva a comer (se repite dos veces)

A correr por las calles
En busca de algo delicioso
Una delicia para comer, una delicia para comer (se repite dos veces)


Problemas (se repite seis veces)

Una delicia para comer

Problemas (se repite tres veces)


Década de 1970

En la década de 1970, la comida era un tema feminista, y yo era una feminista gorda. Buscaba siempre una excusa cuasi-políticamente correcta para comer. En la década de 1960, el tema había sido que era esposa y madre, también, el rechazo por ser una artista negra y otras opresiones. En los setenta, era por todo eso y, además, por ser mujer. Me preguntaba todo el tiempo cuándo el dolor sería suficiente.



Dolor, dolor, dolooooor
Me duele tanto la rodilla que ya no puedo ver
Me hace renguear y me tuerce la cadera

Lamento haber comido tantas papas fritas


Me duele la espalda
Siento que se va a quebrar
Me hace chillar y gritar “aléjate de ese helado”


Me duele la pierna
Como si estuviera arrastrando un barril
No puedo subir las escaleras, si como chocolate de esta manera


¿Llegará esto a su fin? Sí



Muévete, sacude el cuerpo, canta, hazlo con fuerza
Caminar un kilómetro te hará sonreír
Te hará bien, te sentirás genial y perderás peso (se repite tres veces) ¡Oh, sí!


Década de 1980

Para 1980, ya había probado todas las dietas. Subí de peso en todas. No sabía que no se podía combinar dietas, así que las combiné. Si una funcionaba bien, entonces dos o tres juntas funcionarían mejor. Finalmente rompí la balanza a los 117 kg. Quién sabe cuánto más aumenté después de eso. Mañana empiezo el cambio.



Mañana (se repite dos veces)

Mañana bajaré esos kilos

A esos kilos los pierdo mañana
Mañana bajaré esos kilos

A esos kilos los pierdo mañana (se repite tres veces)


¡Mejor empiezo hoy!


Puedo cambiar, puedo hacerlo
Sigue intentando y lo lograrás


¡Es hoy!


La peor parte de ser gorda era tener que atravesar de costado para poder pasar por los molinillos del metro; bajar rengueando las escaleras, jadeando y resoplando mientras un pasajero perplejo me tiene la puerta. Y luego que dos personas se levanten para darme su lugar. La única alternativa es el cambio.


La única alternativa es el cambio

La única alternativa es el cambio (se repite dos veces)

No soporto el dolor
Es como un fuego en mi interior

Todos los días la misma historia

No importa de quién es la culpa


Soy yo la que necesita cambiar

Comer tanto es una locura
La única alternativa es el cambio (se repite dos veces)


Se repite La canción del cambio



Cambio 3: Colcha narrativa sobre la performance de Faith Ringgold al perder más de 45 kilos, 1991

Acrílico sobre lienzo con recortes de tela
Museo Glenstone, Potomac, Maryland


  1. ¿Te imaginas una fiesta donde todos los invitados son una manifestación de ti? Yo haré una fiesta así; es una manera divertida y excelente de conocerse a una misma.
  2. Hace mucho que no aprendo algo nuevo sobre mí. Hablo conmigo misma y entiendo y acepto mi punto de vista. Pero quiero saber: ¿con quién estoy hablando?
  3. En mi fiesta, todos los invitados son yo, y me conocen, por lo que no es necesario actuar ni simular. Hasta nuestros desacuerdos y rechazos son estimulantes y reveladores.
  4. Las manifestaciones extremas de mí misma fueron a la fiesta sin invitación y les falté el respeto. Una estaba comiendo un sándwich de costillas de cerdo frito de una bolsa grasosa. Cuando se fue, resoplando, se quedó trabada en la puerta.
  5. ¿Se imaginan una fiesta como la que les sugerí? Solo conmigo o contigo allí, con todas las expresiones posibles de mí misma o de ti misma. ¿Les resultaría interesante?
  6. ¿Les gustaría estar rodeados de ustedes mismos? Ustedes que forman parte de sus sueños y fantasías reprimidos; ustedes que comen segundo plato, que se dan atracones de medianoche, ustedes holgazanes sin brillo, ustedes devoradores de galletas.
  7. ¿Se imaginan cómo se verían, cómo serían, en todos los colores, formas y combinaciones de su ser? Podrían obtener respuestas a preguntas muy relevantes como: “¿Por qué comes tanto?”.
  8. Como ya saben que la persona con la que hablan son ustedes mismos, podrían preguntarle lo que sea. Pero pregúntenle solo a una versión delgada por qué come de más; de lo contrario, la respuesta podría terminar en comer un segundo plato.
  9. Soy tan exigente. Quiero que todas mis fantasías sean reales y verdaderas. Si salen mal, trataré de cambiarlas y, si no, lo negaré. ¿Pero quién puede negar el peso?
  10. Todas mis invitadas vinieron desnudas. Eran cada una de mis versiones que bajaron de peso y lo volvieron a subir en mis últimos 40 años. Me sorprendió y me encantó encontrarme con ellas cara a cara. Eran una realidad.
  11. Una mejor amiga, a pesar de que estamos distanciadas últimamente, come solo una comida baja en grasas por día. Me encontró comiéndome su almuerzo una vez, cuando llegó tarde a una cita que era a la hora del almuerzo.
  12. Esta mujer se entrena y hace ejercicio, se maquilla el rostro y usa accesorios, y se cuida mucho. Me encanta estar con ella. Pero a veces es compulsiva y estricta respecto de la comida. Hace mucho que no la veo.
  13. Hay otra mujer a la que solo le gusta mirar la comida. Es una voyerista culinaria. Admiro eso. Cocina comida riquísima, pero nunca la come. Le tengo cariño, pero casi nunca la veo.
  14. Hay otra mujer que siempre quiere “¡organizar un almuerzo!”. Yo no organizo almuerzos, me los como. Lo único que hago cuando me encuentro con alguien a almorzar, es pedir un segundo plato.
  15. Cuando tengo ganas de comer una porción de pastel de chocolate y helado, es ella quien satisface mi tentación. “Estoy aquí para ti en cualquier momento del día o la noche”, dice. Pero me gustaría no tener relación con ella.
  16. Si bien en esencia es una buena persona, ya le dejé claro que su presencia me da miedo. No es mi tipo. Pero no se despega de mi lado.
  17. Prefiero la mujer que suele estar muy ocupada como para comer, y que come de a poquito el postre, tanto que el helado se derrite y el pastel se pone pastoso. Te imaginarás que no la veo seguido.
  18. Así que la invité a que viajara conmigo a París. Sé que odia la comida francesa; todo ese pan, esa manteca y la patisserie. Pero tal como suele pasar, estaba muy ocupada como para comer… o para venir conmigo.
  19. Hay una mujer que es mi mayor fantasía, a pesar de que nunca la volveré a invitar. La siento muy parecida a mí. Come sin parar y no engorda.
  20. Hay dos mujeres muy gordas que se comieron tres bandejas de hors d’oeuvres antes de la cena. Me invitaron a una reunión después de cenar a tomar café, pastel y helado. ¡En serio!

Archival Video Transcripts

Archival Video Transcripts

This page contains raw transcripts for six archival videos included in the exhibition Faith Ringgold: American People at the MCA Chicago.

Para ver una traducción al español de este texto selecciona “Español” usando el botón “Idioma” en la esquina inferior izquierda.

“Quilt Artist Faith Ringgold,” excerpt from “THREADS,” Craft in America, PBS, 2012.




When I was a child, I had asthma and I was home a lot, not going to school.  I might be home for a week recovering from an asthma attack, but I had all my schoolwork.

My mother would get my books and find out what my lessons were so I could keep up with my reading.

My mother often would give me a little scrap of cloth and I would make something. When I went to the City College of New York in 1948, they asked me what are you planning to be? Well, if you put it like that, I want to be an artist and I was told we don’t offer that degree to women, but one woman there said wait a minute, you can major in art and minor in education and be an art teacher. To be a teacher is a professional job that is popular among African Americans in the south because they had segregated schools. So in my family that was something that people did. My great-grandfather being the first, Professor B.B. Posey.

No matter how you turn it you always get those four words and a nice patter.



And a nice pattern. Okay, I’ll pin it and stitch it and we’ll take a look at it….

I met Faith at University of California San Diego. I was in Faith’s drawing class. Faith asked if anyone was a photographer in the class and I was the only one who raised my hand. That was 17 years ago. Right now we’re working on a quilt about President Obama.



A good way to collaborate on something is to use this kuba design from the Belgian Congo.

There’s eight triangles in a square done in different ways, it’s just wonderful and you can do all kinds of stuff. You can have a lot of people collaborate together. You just need more units of words so that you can repeat them and there’s no limit to how many ways it can be. It’s just such a great design. I love it.

I studied a lot about quilts because I wanted to understand their origin… In the United States, the quilt was brought here by slaves from Africa. Slaves would make quilts for the master’s house and they could also make quilts for themselves to keep warm so it was a useful medium but it gave them an opportunity to be decorative and to use their design aspects so the Gees Bend quilts are a very good example of that. They put it together not even thinking about design, but they were creating these wonderful minimalist arrangements.

I remember when we used to go up on tar beach—which was the roof of our building—we could reflect and look at all of New York, the lights, and it was so beautiful. It looks exactly as it did when I painted it, you know how I made the tar roof and the way the tablecloth is. I had this family in mind: the adults will be playing cards and the children will be laying on a mattress. You can’t run around on the roof, children have to be calm, but you can be very happy because it’s so wonderful, you know, looking at the stars and the other buildings, and you could have all kinds of goodies to eat.

Cassie and BB, they’re patterned after people I knew as a child. BB was a little boy who was just adorable and Cassie was a young woman that I went to City College with. I wrote the story and the end of it when I said—I have told BB, because BB doesn’t know how do you do all this flying—I have told him it’s very easy. Anyone can fly, all you need is somewhere to go that you can’t get to any other way, and the next thing you know you’re flying among the stars.

When Judith Lieber, the pocketbook mogul, she saw it and bought it and then she donated it to the Guggenheim.

Tar Beach, my first book, came from the story quilt. They liked the story, so they wanted me to do a book. And I had already written the words, because the words are on the story quilt, so they just sent me a dummy book and put the words on each one of the 32 pages and I just went back and illustrated each one of those pages.

My second book, my editor said what about Harriet Tubman? I said, nice, okay so now my job is: What about Harriet Tubman?

Then when I can tell the story of who was Harriet Tubman, what did she do that was important—I get my characters. And then the third thing is the dialogue, and when I get all of that done, that’s my story, that’s my process.

When I got the commission to do the subway, I wanted to be in Harlem and I said I want it to be

on 125th Street—because 125th Street was like the center of culture of Harlem. What made Harlem so  famous and important is the people who lived there and went there, who built the African American  cultural and historical significance.

The Teresa Hotel was a fantastic hotel and meeting place and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X came to Harlem. Actually, Malcolm X before he even became important, he lived on my corner.

A very important place was Abyssinian Baptist Church. I went there as a child. I would listen to Adam Clayton Powell talk and I think he politicized me, made me understand what it was I had to do as an African American and there wasn’t any women’s movement of any kind. I mean, he was actually talking to the men, but so was everybody. So I just had to, I had to translate, you know, I had to say well okay if this is what the guys should do, now what’s my role in it, what do I do? And that’s why in my foundation I am committed that children should learn about these great masters of African American art and when you can see yourself in the development of a culture, you can do it too because it’s only through these people that I knew that I could do it because people before me did it. You really do need those role models.

My goal as a young artist was to get past male chauvinist domination in the art world. That’s number one, because no matter whether I was with the African Americans or the white Americans, I was still a woman, and women are not supposed to make art. That kind of double struggle empowers me. It gives me a reason to move on and to tell that story.

These three were my students way back in the day. I told the kids. all right we’re going to

do this bulletin board for Black History week. So I said, well what are we going to have on it?

And so Paula raised her hand and she said well, I’m going to bring in my brother’s latest book,

Go Tell It On The Mountain, and I said well what’s your brother’s name and she said James Baldwin and I didn’t know him. He must have just started.



He had, exactly, because Mountain came out in 1953, all right, so we we came together in ‘55.



I got that book and I read it that was it. I read everything that James Baldwin wrote, one right after the other, and that helped me to change my art, because I wanted to do art that expressed what was happening to African Americans in America today.



One thing I have to say that I remember about Faith is the compassion, the compassion that you had with all of us in the classroom. I remember if I finished, I remember saying I’m finished and you said no you’re not, you have color, you put all the colors in there, you have all of the beige or the white at the top. Let’s get the colors in. And I remember wanting to put those colors in but it was the way that you said it. It was the way that you circulated. You moved around and you had something to say to each of us.



My children used to draw on the walls and I framed it. My relatives thought I had going mad but

I was thrilled that these little people could do these things and you are a part of all this.



I wanted to create paintings that could be as large as I needed them to be. And I needed to be able to roll it up and place it in a trunk and send it all over the country. Then I would go and they would pay me to lecture. Artists need to be able to store their work, and the quilts have made that completely possible for me.

The first quilt, Echoes of Harlem, was made with my mother and I. My mother informed me that making a quilt was extremely difficult. When my mother passed away, the second quilt I wanted to make was a tribute to mother. I sat down and I created Mother’s Quilt.

Sonny Rollins used to come to my house to practice his saxophone. He’s a little kid, 12,

13 years old. He’s a year older than me. And my mother used to say, oh Sonny please,

you’re disturbing my neighbors because he’d play off key, but didn’t upset him.

He taught me to be serious about my art. I learned that from Sonny Rollins. And then when he became older and more successful in the 60s, he would go up on the bridge and nobody could say anything. So I wanted to remember that and so I created Sonny’s Quilt with Sonny blowing on the bridge .

And I thought at that time, this personifies women. Bridges unite people across barriers, and that’s what we do with our families, we hurdle obstacles, we stay together, we pass it on, just like a bridge.



What’s special about our school is that we have this arts focus. We have a Harlem focus.

We feel like that has a lot to do with the self-esteem that is built in the students and so we try to weave in the arts into all of our subject areas because we feel like it enhances learning for the students.



It was the night of  the 24th of December in 1939.



Faith found me in Harlem. She was looking for a school to work with, and introduced me to her way of teaching art and teaching the cultural significance of art, and all the artists that the kids don’t learn about. She had this process where the kids would learn about an artist, learn about their lives, and then create art in the style of this artist using the same mediums that the artist would use. And the final component was that they would go see the work itself, the original work. And so once I started doing that with the kids through a grant that she had through the Anyone Can Fly foundation, I just found that by the time we finished, it would be a very rich looking piece.



Hello Miss Ringgold, it’s always been a dream to meet you.



Oh, thank you, I love that.



He is a very bright student but he has severe asthma so he wasn’t here when we gave out the papers but he has been so blessed to bring us our snack today, so he said this is his lucky day.



Well, you know I have asthma also.



Oh, my goodness.



Yeah I got asthma at two, when I was two years old.

I expected to have a problem, a big problem with making quilts in the fine art world but I did not. Everybody knows what a quilt is. That was so important in my career as an artist because it made people accept my work much better than they did before I started making the quilts.

“Faith Ringgold: In Conversation,” Tate Talks, Tate Gallery of Millbank, London, 2018.

A transcript for this work is coming soon. Thank you for your patience.

Faith Ringgold, interview by Charlie Rose, Charlie Rose, PBS, 1991.

A transcript for this work is coming soon. Thank you for your patience.

Faith Ringgold, interview by Carol Jenkins, “Art & Activism with Faith Ringgold,” Black America, 2017.

A transcript for this work is coming soon. Thank you for your patience.


“Faith Ringgold: The Last Story Quilt,” L&S Video, 2017.

A transcript for this work is coming soon. Thank you for your patience.

Faith Ringgold interview, c. 1972.

A transcript for this work is coming soon. Thank you for your patience.

Other Artwork Transcripts

Tony Cokes, Black Celebration, 1988

Para ver una traducción al español de este texto selecciona “Español” usando el botón “Idioma” en la esquina inferior izquierda.


Tony Cokes (b. 1956, Richmond, VA; lives in Providence, RI)

Black Celebration, 1988


Tony Cokes (n. 1956, Richmond, VA; vive en Providence, RI)

Celebración negra, 1988


[Rock music]


















Universal Newsreel








Universal Newsreel
















Answer me. Talk. Can’t you move. Answer





















































Did you hear that? There’s music up there!
Did you hear that? There’s somebody here!

















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In an effort to make Faith Ringgold’s work more accessible, and to allow visitors a different way to engage with her unique narrative art, we’ve invited two multitalented artists to read aloud the text written on select story quilts. Chairwoman of the venerable AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) Coco Elysses reads the text as it is written on the quilts, while vocalist, writer, and lecturer Meralis Álvarez reads the Spanish language translations.