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American Collection #5: Bessie's Blues

A square-shape textile with a dual multicolor border features a painted five-by-four grid of images with the repeated face of a Black woman with short hair, Bessie Smith. Her face appears blue in each instance, while the outline of her facial features, her hair, and clothing alternate colors in varying shades of yellow and orange. The background of each square likewise alternates between shades of blue and green, some with an influx of red.
© 2019 Faith Ringgold / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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  • A square-shape textile with a dual multicolor border features a painted five-by-four grid of images with the repeated face of a Black woman with short hair, Bessie Smith. Her face appears blue in each instance, while the outline of her facial features, her hair, and clothing alternate colors in varying shades of yellow and orange. The background of each square likewise alternates between shades of blue and green, some with an influx of red.

Date:

January 19, 1997

Artist:

Faith Ringgold (American, born 1930)
United States, New York, Harlem

About this artwork

Faith Ringgold employed thick lines and forms to portray the singer Bessie Smith, also known as “Empress of the Blues.” The deliberate dissonance between Smith’s melodies and their musical accompaniment finds a visual echo in Ringgold’s pared-down portrait of the glamorous Smith (known for bespangled dresses and sparkly jewelry). The subtle variations among the repeated portraits hint at the variations in pitch and rhythm in the choruses of Smith’s songs.

Status

Currently Off View

Department

Textiles

Artist

Faith Ringgold

Title

American Collection #5: Bessie's Blues

Origin

New York

Date

Made 1997

Medium

Cotton-, rayon-, nylon-, and polyester- blend fabrics; acrylic paint

Dimensions

195.4 × 201.3 cm (76 7/8 × 79 1/4 in.)

Credit Line

Robert Allerton Endowment

Reference Number

2002.381

Copyright

© 2019 Faith Ringgold / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.

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