Portland Museum of Art

Portland, Maine

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Bearing Witness: Contemporary Works by African American Women Artists


Opening April 7, 1999 at the Portland Museum of Art, Bearing Witness: Contemporary Works by African American Women Artists surveys the impressive and unique contributions of an important and under-recognized segment of the art community. Featuring 47 paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, mixed-media installations, and sculpture by 24 talented women, Bearing Witness includes works by Emma Amos, Elizabeth Catlett, Jean Lacy, Howardena Pindell. Rachelle Puryear, Faith Ringgold, Alison and Betye Saar, Lorna Simpson, and Carrie Mae Weems. Bearing Witness will be on view through May 31, 1999.

African American women artists have had to struggle to find a completely new way to address their experiences. From the use of domestic materials like beads, buttons, and fabric to the incorporation of non-western artistic approaches and models, they have enriched and informed the course of 20th-century American art. Spanning four generations, the works in Bearing Witness address a diversity of social and personal issues, including history, ethnicity, age, class, religion, prejudice, and invisibility through the eyes and experiences of the artists. Each generation of women in this exhibition faced new challenges in their art and lives, and emerged victorious.

Pioneers like Lois Mailou Jones and Elizabeth Catlett, who began their careers in the 1930s and 1940s, had to fight to be recognized as individuals and artists, while members of the younger generation like Alison Saar and Carrie Mae Weems face the prospect of providing leadership for African American women artists in the new millennium. While each artist has her own unique vision, she also supports, or "bears witness," to the lives and works of her sisters.

The exhibition debuted in the spring of 1996, at the new Museum of Fine Art in the Camille Hanks Cosby Academic Center at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. The opening coincided with the 115-year anniversary of Spelman, the first college in the world founded for Black women.

Top to Bottom: Lois Mailou Jones, Chanson D'Bahia, 1989, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 29 inches; Faith Ringgold, Marlon Riggs: Tongues Untied, A Painted Story Quilt, 1994, acrylic on canvas with pieced and quilted fabric, fabric borders, and quoted given to Faith by Marlon, 89 x 59 1/5 inches; Amalia Amaki, Souvnir Gaze #2, 1995, wood, color photographs, buttons, simulated pearls, beads, and jewelry fragments, 20 x 16 inches; Carrie Mae Weems, From the installation: From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried, 10 work installation of monochromatic color photographs with sand blasted glass, 26 3/4 x 22 3/4 inches, P.P.O.W. Gallery, New York, New York.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 9/20/10

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