Since the 1960s, Ringgold, an ardent feminist and political activist, has used her art to address gender and racial problems in America and Europe, from a personal, sometimes autobiographical, human level. Her naive, folksy style makes these works visually approachable, while her frequent use of written texts within the works makes their often biting social commentary eminently clear. Periodically, Ringgold has employed the image of the American flag, a powerful symbol of freedom and democracy, to challenge current injustices.
In Freedom of Speech, the artist interprets the meaning of the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights as it applies to the civil rights of all people. Across the red stripes of the flag are the words of the First Amendment (ratified in 1791) protecting freedom of speech, the right to religious practice, peaceable assembly, and lawful redress of grievances. In opposition to these noble ideals, however, Ringgold writes an array of names and words over the white stripes and stars that reference serious breaches of these freedoms. Painted in October 1990, Freedom of Speech was commissioned by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia as a poster design for an exhibition commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, which was celebrated in 1991.
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): Faith Ringgold 10/90
the artist, New York (1990–2001; sold through the ACA Galleries, New York to MMA)
Eleanor Flomenhaft, ed. Faith Ringgold: A 25 Year Survey. Exh. cat., Fine Arts Museum of Long Island. Hempstead, 1990, p. 14.