Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012) was an African-American graphic artist and sculptor. She is best known for her depictions of the African-American experience in the 20th century, which often had the female experience as their focus. Her work is a mixture of abstract and figurative in the Modernist tradition, with influence from African and Mexican art traditions.
Her work was influenced by the Harlem Renaissance movement and the Chicago Black Renaissance in the 1940s and reinforced in the 1960s and 1970s with the influence of the Black Power, Black Arts Movement and feminism. Catlett was more concerned in the social messages of her work than in pure aesthetics. “I have always wanted my art to service my people — to reflect us, to relate to us, to stimulate us, to make us aware of our potential.” She was a feminist and an activist before these movements took shape, pursuing a career in art despite segregation and the lack of female role models. “I don’t think art can change things,” Catlett said “I think writing can do more. But art can prepare people for change, it can be educational and persuasive in people’s thinking.”
Her printwork was mostly woodcuts and linocuts produced 1947-1966 with theTaller de Gráfica Popular, a famous workshop in Mexico City dedicated to graphics arts promoting leftist political causes, social issues and education. She and other artists created a series of linoleum cuts on prominent black figures as well as posters, leaflets, illustrations for textbooks and materials to promote literacy in Mexico. Her linocut series “The Black Woman Speaks,” is among the first graphic series in Western art to depict the image of the American black woman as a heroic and complex human being. Her posters of Harriet Tubman, Angela Davis, Malcolm X and other figures were widely distributed.
See also many other videos of interviews about her political role and life.