ed. by Catherine Morris and Rujeko Hockley. Duke University Press, April 2017. 320 p. ill. ISBN 9780872731837 (pbk), $24.95.
Reviewed November 2017
Today, the socially conscious are quick to discuss “intersectionality,” but We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965-85 documents a moment in history when making art addressing dual or triple oppressions was beyond daring. The artists portrayed here were combating racism, sexism, and homophobia in an environment when many in the African American social movements wanted to shut down all talk of sexism and the vast majority of white feminists could not bear to hear of racism in their ranks. The artists in this collection – many of whom are still making art – were fierce in their determination to be heard and seen. “Let all our sisters come out of the shadows,” one 1979 manifesto urged. “We are alive and real and creating, too.”
The compilation, assembled by Catherine Morris and Rujeko Hockley, co-curators of the 2017 Brooklyn Museum exhibition We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965-85, gathers the art and writings of one of the most fertile periods – and sectors – of the women’s movement, documenting art from the burgeoning of the black women’s feminist/womanist ferment of the 1960s until a backlash undercut the few resources that had supported the wedding of activism and art.
We Wanted a Revolution includes the works of forty visual artists, including Camille Billops, Faith Ringgold, Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson and Ana Mendieta. The sourcebook reproduces thirty-eight seminal documents pertaining to black women artists’ condition and quest for social justice.
The editors organized the sourcebook thematically. One section is devoted to the era’s earliest manifestations of activist art, such as within the Black Arts Movement, another to the arts collectives that formed in the late 1970s and 1980s. Some sections are devoted entirely to key touchpoints of the period; these include an exhibition organized by Ana Mendieta, the publication of a key issue of Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics, and the presence of Linda Goode Bryant’s Just Above Manhattan Gallery.
The documents are mostly reproduced as they were so that the reader can see them in their original context. Much of the material would be difficult to encounter were it not for this volume, rendering the book so rewarding to art documentarians. “The archive is incredibly important to the show, but it also incredibly important to the people in the show! They kept everything,” Hockley told an interviewer. This is a book to expand the available source material, enlighten, and inspire.