What is the case for exhibiting women artists as women artists? Postwar Women, at the Art Students’ League through December 1st, unites the visions of women artists in the later twentieth century in such a way as to both pose and answer questions of how women artists see, and to make a case for collecting these visions in one space that tells a story across painting, sculpture, and mixed media.
Elizabeth Catlett and Faith Ringgold both look into the past, in some cases the very distant past. Catlett’s “Standing Mother and Child” and “The Door of Justice” both recall African mask traditions (I am not an expert, but for me they evoke the Dean gle of the Dan people of Liberia) in the stylized but steady faces…
…while Faith Ringgold recontextualizes the famous remains of “Lucy” as those of a beloved ancestor by placing a miniature skeleton in a gold coffin, surrounded by flowers and colorful fabric. The scale is intimate and familiar, the notes in block printing on plain white paper, bringing Lucy out of the museum and into a setting that feels funereal, reverent, and joyous all at once.
Catlett and Ringgold both look behind to look forward, reaching into the past to bring dignity and tenderness to depictions of people of African heritage. The explicit embrace of African history and artistic traditions reminds me of El Anatsui or Yinka Shonibare; the affection the artists radiate towards their subjects brings to mind Kehinde Wiley. But ultimately, the modest dimensions lead to a different interpretation, distinct from Shonibare’s irony or Wiley’s grandeur: Catlett and Ringgold, by way of the familial and fond, draw the viewer’s attention to the ways in which people of color have been dehumanized and embrace them with seriousness and profundity.