In her art and life, Elizabeth Catlett exemplifies the Black emancipatory heritage. And from that heritage she draws an African American identify that has allowed her to embrace the struggles of other peoples around the world.

     In a speech to the National Conference of Artists in 1961, Catlett expressed a diasporic consciousness when she stated:

Whether we like it or not, we, Negro artists, are part of a worldwide struggle to change a situation that is unforgiveable and untenable [today] (S. Lewis's addition) in 1961. Children can no longer be denied the right to food, to clothing, and to education. There is hunger, for these necessities, and we must search to find our place, as Negro artists, in the advance toward a richer fulfillment of life on a global basis. Neither the Negro artist nor American art can afford to take an isolated position.8

     Catlett was socially, politically and aesthetically connected to the Black community, a contradistinction to some Black artists and scholars who have assiduously avoided embracing the Black struggle for liberation. Catlett's strong sense of African American identity, her artistic vision, steadfastness, tough-mindedness, her knowledge of African American history and world history in general informed Catlett's art and actions that have made her a truly influential figure in African American art.

     Perhaps more than any other African American artist before 1968, with the possible exception of Jacob Lawrence, Catlett internationalized the Black American struggle. She saw no contradiction between the artistic and the political. Art and politics were not strange bedfellows, as the formalist critics and art historians maintained.

     Catlett has produced an oeuvre of articulate, passionate, and dialogic anticolonial works that have their roots in Africa, the ancient cultures of Mexico--Tlatlico, Teotihuacan, Western Mexico (Moreles, etc.) and European and American modernism, which itself is deeply indebted to African and Precolumbian cultures of the Americas.


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February 2001