“We Wanted A Revolution” features staggering works by household names like Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, and Emma Amos
In 1970, the artist Faith Ringgold, alongside her daughter, writer Michele Wallace, and a New York-based artist-activist group successfully pressured the Whitney Museum of American Art to include Betye Saar and Barbara Chase-Riboud in that year’s Sculpture Annual—the first two black women artists to ever show at the prestigious institution. How did they do it? With well-placed cracked egg traps and tampons inscribed with “50%” scattered around the museum, a perfectly irritating reminder to curators of their demand: that half of the artists at the show be women. “The Whitney Museum became the focus of our attention. We went there often to deposit eggs. Unsuspecting male curatorial staff would pick up the eggs and experience the shock of having raw egg slide down the pants of their fine tailor-made suits,” Ringgold wrote in her 2005 memoir, recalling their performative tactics.
A new show at the Brooklyn Museum, “We Wanted A Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85” offers a rare glimpse of this moment in time, when the Black Arts Movement dovetailed with the women’s liberation movement. One of the exhibition’s anchor images, a photograph taken by artist Jan van Raay of one of their protests, shows a fresh-faced Wallace mid-chant, holding a sign that reads “50% Black Women Artists” and marching alongside her mother outside of the Whitney. It’s a striking record, not only of the artmaking of the time, but of the struggle for creative self-determination that black women artists were challenged with, an issue they still face today.