top of page

Honouring Faith Ringgold & Her Anti-Slavery Quilting

We at the Sophie Hayes Foundation were saddened to hear of the death of artist and activist Faith Ringgold on Saturday, April 13, 2024. She was a powerful force for the anti-slavery cause and her work has changed the lives of those who witness her art. Today we honour her and her legacy by reflecting on her career and how she so colourfully illustrated the Black diasporic experience and the enduring generational trauma of historical slavery.

Faith Ringgold was an American multi-media artist and activist. She was known for co-opting the feminine practice of quilting to communicate socio-political messages about the Black diasporic experience, including slavery, through the culturally meaningful medium of quilting. On the subject matter of her work, she said:

“I became a feminist out of disgust for the manner in which women were marginalized in the art world. I began to incorporate this perspective into my work, with a particular focus on Black women as slaves and their sexual exploitation.”

Her mother, a well-known Harlem clothing designer and seamstress in the 1950s, collaborated with Ringgold in 1972 to create a series of painted quilts. The “Slave Rape” series depicts three African women's attempts to escape abduction and slavery. Her family’s quilting tradition goes back to her enslaved great-great grandmother who passed down the African American quilting style through generations to Ringgold herself. The subjects of the “Slave Rape” triptych were modelled after Ringgold and her daughters, directly speaking to the weight of generational trauma of slavery. Generations after her ancestors' enslavement, Ringgold and her daughter still felt its effects like many others.

Ringgold had turned from traditional painting to mixed-media and quilting as a conscious step away from conventional European artistic tradition, focusing instead on the Pan-African traditions of colour to create contrast as opposed to light and tone. Regarding the context of quilting as a medium, Ringgold has explained:

 “To me, those skills were like a form of inheritance…When slavery began, these women who came from Africa could use quilt-making as a way to do art, and it was okay because their owners didn’t think of it as art-making. A quilt was something you put on top of yourself to keep you warm; it wasn’t art. But to these women, the quilts were almost like letters, a form of communication. I loved the idea that they’d developed this art-making system from their imagination, that they were able to create something beautiful out of scraps.”

Quotation sourced from Groundbreaking Artist Faith Ringgold Has Died (, Harpers Bazaar, April 13, 2024.

Art is a massive driver of progress, and we believe that Faith Ringgold’s artistic contributions have made a better informed and more empathic world.

To read more about the use of quilting for anti-slavery causes, check out our Women’s History Month blog post on Abolitionist sewing and quilting here.


bottom of page