Throughout her six-decade career, New York-based artist Howardena Pindell has been a trailblazer. The first Black woman to become a curator at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in the 1970s, Pindell creates work that addresses issues that are both personal and political: from her own experiences of institutional racism in the art world to intersectional feminism and the climate crisis.
A new exhibition, A New Language at Spike Island in Bristol, brings together works across Pindell’s prolific career. Pindell’s vividly coloured, highly detailed mixed-media paintings and works on paper are displayed alongside films like the iconic Free, White and 21 (1980) made during the feminist art movement in New York, and the more recent Rope/Fire/Water (2020), both of which address the pervasiveness of racial inequality, 40 years apart.
Here, Pindell speaks to AnOther about her mission to challenge people with her politically-motivated work, her childhood experiences of visiting family in a segregated Kentucky, as well as her love of Josef Albers’ colour theory and David Attenborough’s documentaries.
Alayo Akinkugbe: This exhibition gives insight into your practice at various periods in your life, where certain issues may have been more prominent, such as the Aids pandemic, the climate crisis and racial violence. Has it been important to reflect the times at each stage in your practice?
Howardena Pindell: The Aids crisis affected me directly because 13 of my friends and acquaintances died of Aids, and so did my cousin when he was 35. My cousin could pass for white, and when medical personnel thought he was white, they treated him one way, and when they thought he was Black, they treated him another way. That is one of the reasons for the two flags in the work Separate but Equal Genocide: Aids (1991-1992). I am always concerned about climate change and I want to recommend David Attenborough’s Natural World videos – I’m enthralled by their quality and colour. I have bought a number of his videos and I intend to donate them to a library in an urban environment when I have finished watching them.
Image: Howardena Pindell, Parabia Test #4, 1974