Catlett has been an artist/intellectual whose anti-racist
and anti-imperialist expressions in form and the word
made her a visionary whose images and thoughts helped to
liberate young Black artists of the 1960s of their
colonalized and subservient views.
Elizabeth Catlett did not hide from the turbulent present. She embraced the actions, the uncertainties that were abroad.
Catlett has not ever taken an elitist position. She has not offered answers and directions for the masses, but tried to express the imperatives manifest in the lives of Black people in communities where ever they existed.
In discussions of American modernism, Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and other African American artists are seldom, or never, mentioned at all. Catlett's modernism is not a modernism of exclusionism, but one of engagement, inclusive of social change, and a narrative of the struggle for freedom.
Catlett foregrounds the brutality and terror of America's racism that is powerful and compelling. Catlett summarizes this circumstance of the Black male experience in Target (1970, Bronze, 19½ x 12 x 15¾ inches, collection of The Amistad Research Center, Tulane University), yet does not make the image an embodiment of victimization.
Catlett presents work that renounces the soft ministerly in artistic representation. Hers is not the downtrodden Black nor minstrel image of the coon. Images of strong Black men and women are characteristic of Catlett's oeuvre.
Catlett has not been bound by national delimitations. She has used her art to reveal the conditions of Black Americans and of others involved in the struggle for liberation. She has travelled around the world and has seen oppression and political tyranny up close. That response to political repression is revealed in Catlett's work, whether it be "Target" or images of Harriet Tubman in "Harriet".
Catlett's works, whether they be representations of Malcolm X or of Black sharecroppers, have powerful, ritualized conventions that reflect a sense of style and authentic commitment to the struggles of Black and oppressed people.