Howardena Pindell (b. 1943, Philadelphia) has had a long and pioneering career making art and art history. A painter and mixed-media and video artist with a unique, bifurcated practice, Pindell makes both sumptuous process-driven abstract works and pull-no-punches issue-based works that call out racism, sexism, and other injustices. She was the first black woman to work as a curator at MoMA, a founding member of the first all-female cooperative A.I.R. Gallery (Artists in Residence), and a leading light in the feminist and Black Arts Movement. In addition, she is an accomplished writer and teacher. Following her major traveling retrospective organized by Naomi Beckwith and Valerie Cassell Oliver that opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2018 and her first solo exhibition in London at Victoria Miro Mayfair, Pindell speaks about her inspirations, her methods and her current projects.
Toby Kamps (Rail): Few artists play on two registers the way you do. You make process-driven abstract works that are beautiful in an engulfing, embracing, and all-over way. You also make biting political work that uses text and collage elements along with intentionally abrasive painted marks to name and criticize injustice in all of its forms. How do you reconcile these two poles of your work? Do they come from different sides of the brain?
Howardena Pindell: I don’t know about the brain, although the right side of mine was injured in a car accident in 1979. I just know I do both because I need to keep myself balanced. It's hard sometimes, but I try to make it so that the process-driven work is a kind of peaceful space because the other work—with its research—is pretty grim. So, I use both to kind of balance out my brain as best I can, although I often feel a lot of anxiety. How to explain it? I need to do both in order to be a little more balanced. Because if you only do the political work, or the issue related work, it's pretty upsetting.
Image: Howardena Pindell, Untitled #59 (detail), 2010