American People Series #20: Die

Artist: Faith Ringgold (United States)

Medium: oil on canvas
Date: c. 1967

In 1963, Faith Ringgold began a series of 20 paintings called “The American People,” which depict racial confrontations between whites and blacks. Her 1967 painting Die shows a violent street riot. The battle portrayed by the mural is a conceptual one, revealing the undercurrents of what was really at stake in the large urban riots of the 1960s, which was black against white conflict. Blacks were registering their dissatisfaction with the restrictions of ghetto life, the lack of genuine opportunities for advancement and prosperity, and their realization that despite the absence of the obvious signs of Jim Crow segregation and restriction in the cities, the white power structure was still pulling the strings and keeping them in check.

Ringgold wanted us to look at the realities of race in this country — the pain and brutality of it — but she found no ready audience. “It was what was going on in America and I wanted them to look at these paintings and see themselves. … I wanted to create art that made people stop and look. You’ve got to get ’em and hold ’em: The more they look, the more they see.”

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