Thursday, November 9, 6:30 p.m.
Figge Art Museum, 225 West Second Street, Davenport IA
In a program held in collaboration with Azubuike African American Council for the Arts and in conjunction with the venue's current exhibition Art & Activism at Tougaloo College, the hour-long documentary Standing Strong: Elizabeth Catlett will enjoy a November 9 screening at Davenport's Figge Art Museum, the Mid-America Emmy-nominated film highlighting the story of its titular artist and activist.
Born Alice Elizabeth Catlett in 1915, the documentary subject was an African American sculptor and graphic artist best known for her depictions of the Black-American experience in the 20th century, which often focused on the female experience. She was raised in Washington, D.C., to parents working in education, and was the grandchild of formerly enslaved people. Because it was difficult for a black woman of her time to pursue a career as a working artist, Catlett devoted much of her career to teaching. However, a fellowship awarded to her in 1946 allowed her to travel to Mexico City, where she worked with the Taller de Gráfica Popular for 20 years and became head of the sculpture department for the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas. In the 1950s, her main means of artistic expression shifted from print to sculpture, though she never gave up the former.
Catlett's work is a mixture of abstract and figurative in the Modernist tradition, with influence from African and Mexican art traditions, and can be described as social realism because of her dedication to the issues and experiences of African Americans. As the artist stated prior to her passing in 2012, the main purpose of her work was to convey social messages rather than pure aesthetics. Her work is heavily studied by art students looking to depict race, gender and class issues. During her lifetime, Catlett received many awards and recognitions, including membership in the Salón de la Plástica Mexicana; the Art Institute of Chicago Legends and Legacy Award; honorary doctorates from Pace University and Carnegie Mellon; and the International Sculpture Center's Lifetime Achievement Award in contemporary sculpture.
A figure of regional prominence, Catlett also studied under artist Grant Wood and in 1941was the first African American female to receive an MFA from the University of Iowa in Studio Arts. Additionally, she was a pioneer of the Black Arts Movement whose activism continued throughout the Black Power and the feminist movements of the 1970s. Her monumental works of Malala Jackson and Ralph Ellison are awe inspiring, but her most iconic works are those of ordinary black women and mothers, which speak to obstacles she battled throughout her life.
With the film produced by Marie Wilkes and directed by Kevin Kelley of New Mile Media Arts, Standing Strong: Elizabeth Catlett will be presented in the John Deere Auditorium on November 9, admission to the 6:30 p.m. screening is free, and Wilkes and Kelley will participate in a Q&A immediately following the screening. For more information on the evening, call (563)326-7804 and visit FiggeArtMuseum.org.