The Getty Research Institute acquires Black Women of Print's inaugural portfolio

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The Getty Research Institute acquires Black Women of Print's inaugural portfolio
Tenderheaded & Heavyhanded, from the portfolio Continuum, published by Black Women of Print, 2019 (published 2020), Angela Pilgrim. Risograph and decorative paper collage (expanded on visual elements utilized by Emma Amos). Getty Research Institute, 2022.PR.1 © Angela Pilgrim.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- In October 2018, artist and scholar Tanekeya Word founded Black Women of Print (BWoP), a space for Black women printmakers to promote their work, support professional development, and advance critical discourse around the representation of Black women printmakers.

To mark the organization’s first anniversary, seven artist members—Leslie Diuguid, LaToya M. Hobbs, Jennifer Mack-Watkins, Delita Martin, Angela Pilgrim, Stephanie Santana, and Word—collaborated on an inaugural print portfolio, a copy of which is now in the GRI’s collection.

Curated by Word, this collection of prints responds to the theme Continuum. Through shared graphic vocabularies, compositions, and subject matter, the BWoP artists evoke the foundational legacies of seven Black artistic foremothers: Emma Amos, Margaret T. G. Burroughs, Elizabeth Catlett, Wanda Ewing, Belkis Ayón Manso, Alison Saar, and Betye Saar.

Mother and daughter artists Betye and Alison Saar are celebrated in the prints of Mack-Watkins and Word. Mack-Watkins’s Future Undetermined looks to Betye Saar: alluding to the title of Saar’s 1990 print Return to Dreamtime, Mack-Watkins’s piece is a reflection on “what I would dream for my own children and their own futures.” Mack-Watkins pays homage to Saar’s surrealist composition and pioneering assemblage sculpture by layering text, images, and symbols that refer to her own life as an artist, educator, and mother.

In Starshine & Clay, Word also draws on her experiences as a mother. She describes her strong affinity for Alison Saar: “Alison Saar was birthed from the creative lioness Betye Saar, I too was birthed by a creative lioness and am a creative lioness who is a mother.” Word’s composition echoes the powerful female figures with fantastical hair, often rendered in profile, who populate Alison Saar’s works. Visitors to the GRI can further engage with this artistic lineage through works by both Betye and Alison Saar held in Special Collections.

Angela Pilgrim’s Tenderheaded & Heavyhanded pays tribute to Amos, whose diptych Classic and Universal recently entered the GRI’s collection. Making reference to the patterned border in Amos’s painting Memory from 2012, Pilgrim collages strips of decorative paper to frame her risograph, a digital printmaking technique that produces a visual effect similar to screen print. Within this frame, two Black women are portrayed in a sequence of changing attitudes and expressions. Their natural hairstyles contrast with the straightened hair of the woman whose picture is displayed on a table at the upper left. Enlivened with brightly colored price tags and graphic hearts, an elusive yet compelling narrative unfolds and draws the viewer in. Pilgrim’s print illustrates her larger interest in creating art that addresses “the Black women experience in America as well as the relation of Black Hair to beauty.”

The portfolio’s seven prints are housed in a custom clamshell box covered in an iridescent twill fabric. Changing color from blue to black to purple, depending on the light, the box prepares the viewer for a captivating sensory experience. “Art is meant to be moving, shared, and talked about by an inclusive audience of people,” says Diuguid. In presenting this portfolio to researchers and the public, the GRI hopes to inspire audiences to create dynamic conversations centered around the history and future of Black women artists and their work.

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