Skip to main content
University of Cambridge

Open: Tuesday–Sunday, 11am–5pm

Please note we are closed on Bank Holiday Mondays

Book Tickets

Open: Tuesday–Sunday, 11am–5pm

Please note we are closed on Bank Holiday Mondays

Stories

11 things about Howardena Pindell

Find out more about our current exhibition artist Howardena Pindell. The exhibition of her work ‘A New Language’ spreads across the two downstairs galleries, and the Research Space on the second floor.

I am an artist. I am not part of a so-called ‘minority’, ‘new’ or ‘emerging’ or ‘a new audience’. These are all terms used to demean, limit, and make people of colour appear to be powerless. We must evolve a new language which empowers us and does not cause us to participate in our own disenfranchisement.

— Howardena Pindell, A Documentation, 1980–88

1. Howardena Pindell was born in Philadelphia, USA, in 1943. She studied at Boston University and later at Yale University. Today she is an artist, teacher and activist.

2. One of the ways Howardena Pindell creates a textured surface on her paintings is by using a stencil. She would punch out holes from carboard sheets using a standard office hole punch and then spray paint through the stencil. You can see this technique in Untitled (1969-72).

3. The title of the exhibition ‘A New Language’ is a quote from Howardena Pindell’s Documentation, which was written in the 1980s. Documentation was a collection of data about the lack of artists of colour and the structural racism within the art world and museums.

4. Pindell wanted to make the work Rope/Fire/Water in the 1970s but was unable to due to a lack of support. She returned to the subject in 2020 against the backdrop of Black Lives Matter. The film presents an unflinching exploration of slavery, lynching and the civil rights movement.

Detail from ‘Untitled’ (1969-72). Courtesy the artist, Garth Greenan Gallery and Victoria Miro
Still from ‘Free/White/21’ (1980). Courtesy the artist, Garth Greenan Gallery and Victoria Miro.

5. Along with other women, Howardena Pindell co-founded the A.I.R Gallery (A.I.R stands for Artist in Residence). It was the first all-female artists cooperative gallery in the US. The gallery allowed women artists to curate their own exhibitions, allowing them the freedom to take risks with their work in ways that commercial galleries would not.

6. She was MoMA’s (Museum of Modern Art) first African American curator in 1970s New York. She ended up quitting her job in 1979 because of institutional racism.

7. Pindell’s work deals with difficult and political subject matter. Some of the subjects you will encounter in the exhibition include racism, enslavement, violence against Black and Indigenous people of colour, police brutality, the AIDS crisis and climate change.

8. Pindell describes the abstract work she creates as a ‘kind of visual healing’. When viewing A New Language, spend some time with the abstract works to process what you have seen elsewhere in the exhibition. Howardena says: ‘then you can have a more peaceful or critical way to acknowledge what you’ve seen.’ You can pick up a self-care and wellbeing support guide from the front desk or read it online here.

9. Howardena was raised during segregation and was greatly influenced by the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements. Watch Free/White/21 in the exhibition. This film was created by Pindell in 1980 and is a sharp critique both of racism in the art world and more widely.

10. Separate but Equal Genocide: AIDS, 1991-92 acts as a memorial to Howardena Pindell’s cousin, Carmen Lewis, who died with AIDS aged 35. Pindell notes that her cousin looked white to some people, and Black to others. If people thought he was white, he received one kind of medical treatment, and a different type if they thought he was Black. The two flags (one black and one white) draw attention to this inequality.

11. Pindell started to include words and writing in her artwork, such as in Text (1975). This allowed her to be more direct about what she wanted to say.

To find out more about the artist and the exhibition, watch this interview between Fruitmarket Gallery Director Fiona Bradley and Howardena Pindell. The interview starts at 6 minutes.