In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the National Museum of Women in the Arts on July 16 hosted a “Town Hall on Artistry, Creativity, and Civil Rights,” a panelist discussion on art, artistic inspiration, and the creative influences drawn from the civil rights era.

Hosted by CNN political analysis Jamal Simmons, the discussion featured acclaimed painter, quilter and former economist for the Environmental Protection Agency, Avis Collins Robinson, civil rights filmmaker Keith Beauchamp, and world renowned painter, mixed media sculptor, and author Faith Ringgold. Panelists shared their stories with audiences, speaking passionately of their experiences with the civil rights movement and how it shaped their artwork.

“When I create my art, I don’t care what anyone thinks,” Robinson told the audience. “Art is truly the purest form of your expression and use of freedom of speech. Art can never be silenced.”

Born and raised in Montgomery County, Maryland, Robinson grew up very much aware of the social and racial tensions felt throughout the nation. An avid collector of U.S. slavery documents and artifacts, Robinson drew from her collections the very inspiration for her artwork.

“Slavery really pissed me off,” professed Robinson. “My art comes from anger.”

Raised in Baton Rouge, La., Beauchamp grew up knowing all-too-well the harrowing story of Emmett Louis Till. After being assaulted in his own youth by a police officer for dancing with a White friend, Beauchamp was determined to take action. Initially setting out to pursue a career as a civil rights attorney, Beauchamp came across filmmaking, seeing it as a means of exposing civil injustices. He founded Till Freedom Come Productions in 1999 in honor of Emmett Till and is the host for Investigation Discovery’s “Injustice Files,” and has produced a documentary, “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till.”

“I use filmmaking as a platform for change,” Beauchamp said. “I deal with things mainstream media is afraid to touch.”

The 82-year-old award-winning painter, author, and political artist Ringgold dazzled audiences with stories of her early years as a political artist. “No one was doing or interested in political art back then”, said Ringgold, “they only wanted abstracts.” Ringgold recalled an incident in the late 1950’s where, upon bringing her painted landscapes and portrait pieces to a gallery, the museum’s art director accused her of forgery. “You didn’t paint these” the art director told her.

Ringgold would later take the director’s words to mean, “why would you simply paint this, when your people and country are in the midst of such social, political and racial unrest?” Ringgold said she realized then power and importance of self-expression through art. Her featured exhibit in the festival, “American People, Black Light,” will be shown until Nov. 10 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

“Art is about telling your story,” Ringgold said. “You have to speak from your own experiences.”


Ariel Medley

AFRO Staff Writers