Laura Gardner, Ph.D.


Women’s Leadership


The purpose of this study was to examine ways in which Black female artists have created narratives through art as self-definition. These artists have responded to stereotypical stories and images of Black women by creating self-defined stories and images. This study specifically focused on Faith Ringgold because she has combined narrative and visual art in story quilts that present Black women as empowered, multidimensional people. Her story quilt Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima reclaims the narrative of the stereotypical Black mammy character, Jemima. Ringgold depicts Jemima as a liberated, dynamic entrepreneur and family woman. In creating positive characterizations of Black women, Ringgold does not flatten her characters. They are rounded with all the complexities that come with being human.

Themes of self-definition were further investigated through narrative inquiry of biographies of twenty-five notable Black women artists of the twentieth century. The artists are from a variety of time periods within the twentieth century and include painters, sculptors, collage artists, fabric artists, and photographers. Their biographies were thematically analyzed. Findings showed that about half of the artists clearly intended to express self-definition through their art in response to stereotypes of Black women. The overwhelming majority of this half were not only concerned with creating an image of self, but also with depicting Black women in general in a positive light, illustrating them as diverse, complex people.