A portrait of a black woman standing amidst a room full of items.

A Portrait of Black Artists

SLS UKCreativity

Subject: Art and artists

Topic: Creativity

Year Group: KS2 and KS3

Synopsis: Books which focus on inspiring black icons that will be ideal for your primary school library (with a special focus on activist artist Faith Ringgold), selected by Sharon Walsh from Westminster SLS.

Faith Ringgold, Jazz Stories: Mama Can Sing, Papa Can Blow #1: Somebody Stole My Broken Heart

Librarian’s view:

I saw an exhibition a few years ago (2019) at the Serpentine Galleries in Kensington, central London. It was not an extensive display, but it was powerful, with vibrantly decorated scenes celebrating the lives of Black Americans. The exhibition was of Faith Ringgold’s work – an African American woman artist who depicted images of harmony, but also social conflict and race hatred in 20th century USA. 

Faith’s work is for everyone and is antiracist. Although I missed the opportunity to hear the artist speak, her art spoke in her place. Faith explores the world through the use of mixed media including collage, painting and embroidered quilts, which draw on female traditions both in African and American art. Words and images combine to frame her point of view.

Faith Ringgold: narrating the world in pattern and colour by Sharna Jackson, illustrated by Andrea Pippins
Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
Amazing Artists by J.P. Miller, illustrated by Chellie Carroll

At Westminster SLS we have recently bought a book for school libraries called Faith Ringgold: narrating the world in pattern and colour, written by Sharna Jackson and illustrated by Andrea Pippins. The book chronicles Faith’s life from growing up in 1930s New York to developing her own distinct vision as an artist. It prompts KS2 and KS3 readers to pursue their own art projects and sits very comfortably in a British school library.

Faith Ringgold’s first children’s picture book Tar Beach, about a little girl intent on making her dreams of freedom come true, was published in 1991, and quickly became an American classic.

Black icons to inspire

Black writers, performers, dancers, film makers and artists who changed the world are celebrated in the book Amazing Artists, written by J.P. Miller and illustrated by Chellie Carroll.

In it find out more about Stevie Wonder, who was born 20 years after Faith Ringgold.  But was his America a more tolerant place to this immensely talented, visually-impaired, singer songwriter? The performer who gave us Superstition used his platform to help make Martin Luther King Day a national holiday in the USA in 1982 (the third Monday in January).

British artists Chris Ofili and Sir Steve McQueen also feature in this collection of biographies as do Stormzy, Idris Elba and the writer Malorie Blackman.  No school library is complete without a selection of Malorie Blackman books from the Betsey Biggalow series for KS1 pupils; Thief and Pig Heart Boy for KS2 and the modern classic Noughts and Crosses series at KS3. Note these key stages are indicative rather than prescriptive.

Malorie Blackman, a former children’s laureate has adapted Noughts and Crosses into a stage play and a television series. This story was conceived in angry response to the murder of young Black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1990s London and its subsequent mishandled investigation.

Amazing Artists is written in an accessible format to appeal to readers at KS2 and KS3 and champions some of the overlooked creatives who have contributed to the cultural landscape of our world. Your pupils are sure to be inspired by these books.