Every year, February rolls around and we hear about Black History Month. It’s an important recognition of people left out of the mainstream narrative because of the color of their skin. We hear inspiring stories and see pictures of major event, but I always am left with a strange feeling of incompletion. What about the other eleven months of the year? How do we go deeper with these histories so that their legacy carries on beyond a “cool story” or something I “heard about once?”
The complete answer is bigger than any one idea or person, but with my family, I’ve started by having my kids actually interact with the ideas and methods people of color gave us in the past. So, when that idea or story comes up in the future, my kids remember fundamentally where it came from and how it affected us.
This month, if you’d like to have your kids interact with significant work done by people of color, here’s what my family is doing in regards to the creative arts.
Family in Stitches
Faith Ringgold was born in Harlem, New York City, in 1930 just at the end of the Harlem Renaissance and the beginning of the Great Depression. You can see the influence of her childhood in her art as well as her experiences with racism and sexism throughout her life. One of her most unique art forms is quilt painting, inspired by the colors and patterns used by her African ancestors, that depict scenes from her childhood. You can find out more about Ms. Ringgold and see her art in this video.
In addition to her art pieces, Faith Ringgold writes children’s books. Here is a vintage “Reading Rainbow” episode in which she reads her book Tar Beach, based on her quilt of the same name.
Having Your Family Interact:
If you happen to be a quilter, or even just someone who has material pieces around your house, you are ahead of the game. A most ambitious family could actually create their own autobiographical quilt, with a family portrait painted in the middle, to display in their home.
For those looking for a more realistic project, you can have kids glue bits of scrapbook or construction paper onto a bigger poster to create quilt-like patterns. In the middle, draw, or paint if you’re feeling adventurous, a scene with your family.
Whatever method you use, be sure to draw on Ringgold’s creativity and amazing storytelling for inspiration!
Graffiti of the Soul
Perhaps more intriguing to older kids is the artist, Jean Michel Basquiat. His story includes a childhood accident, homelessness, and drug use. He began his career as a graffiti artist, was mentored by Andy Warhol, and dated Madonna. His style kept the graffiti influence even when he moved to canvas. He frequently used excerpts from magazines or books, depictions of anatomy, and themes of racism and colonialism.
Sadly, his swift rise to fame ended with a heroin overdose when he was just 27. Amazingly, one of Basquiat’s pieces holds the record of the highest auction sale of any American artist.
This video captures the essence of his life and art. If you are looking for even more detail, you can watch 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Jean Michel Basquiat.
Having Your Family Interact:
Basquiat’s art uses intensely personal elements. It can be hard for kids to dig into those feelings and then represent them on paper. Provide a heavy piece of paper, crayons and pens, and magazines for pictures or phrase clippings. Ask them to represent what they feel or how they see themselves. When they are done, they can use watercolor to add extra color layers over the original art to get color block like Basquiat frequently used.
My hope is that one day, we will all be able to enjoy a history where everyone is equally represented. In the meantime, I hope that learning about and emulating these amazing African American artists will help seal them into my kids’ memories.