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Howardena Pindell

World renowned abstract artist Howardena Pindell was born on April 14, 1943, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pindell became interested in art at an early age when she began taking art classes on Saturdays; she started out as a figurative painter. Pindell received her B.F.A. degree in painting from Boston University's School of Fine and Applied Arts in 1965, and her M.F.A. degree from Yale University's School of Art and Architecture in 1967. Pindell was also awarded two honorary doctorates: one from the Massachusetts College of Art, and one from Parson School of Design in New York.

Pindell began her career in the art world as the first African American Associate Curator of Prints and Illustrated Books at the New York Museum of Modern Art, a position she held for twelve years. Pindell rose from Curatorial Assistant to Associate Curator during her time at the New York Museum of Modern Art.. In 1979, Pindell began a new career as Associate Professor of Students at State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Pindell’s earliest drawings, composed of a patterned sequence of words and numbers on graph paper, suggest post minimalism as a major ingredient in her abstractions. In the 1970s, Pindell developed a collage technique using small circles hand punched from sheets of blank or printed paper. After numbering each one individually, she pasted them on sheets of punched and un-punched paper so that they floated on surfaces at once porous and solid. In the 1980s, she moved to photo-based collage, video, and relief paintings with intensely political subject matter. Pindell traveled extensively to Africa, Asia, Europe, Russia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, lived in Japan for seven months, and in India for four months. Pindell used these journeys and experiences as inspiration to integrate her own history as content for the autobiographies of her life. Between 1995 and 1999, Pindell taught at Yale University as a visiting professor; from 2003 to 2006, she served as Director of the MFA Program at Stony Brook University. Pindell also served as a full Professor of Art at Stony Brook University.

Pindell’s belief that the arts community should become more inclusive of women and minorities sparked a revolution in her work; she published groundbreaking studies that documented the lack of representation of artists of color through racism, censorship and violence.

Pindell works are in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Yale Art Museum, New Haven, the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, and the Rhode Island School of Art Museum. Pindell also became an accomplished writer; a book of her writings, The Heart of the Question, was published in 1997. In 2000 Pindell received the IAM Pioneer award.

Accession Number

A2007.002

Sex

Female

Interview Date

1/5/2007

Last Name

Pindell

Maker Category
Schools

Yale University

Boston University

Philadelphia High School for Girls

Jay Cook Junior High School

Pastorius Francis P Sch

The New School for Social Research

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Howardena

Birth City, State, Country

Philadelphia

HM ID

PIN04

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Pennsylvania

Favorite Vacation Destination

Egypt

Favorite Quote

Are You Kidding? Oh, God.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

4/14/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Southern Food

Short Description

Collage artist, art professor, and curator Howardena Pindell (1943 - ) began her career as the first African American Associate Curator of Prints and Illustrated Books at the New York Museum of Modern Art, and became a renowned abstract artist. Pindell also published groundbreaking studies that document the lack of representation of artists of color through racism, censorship, and violence.

Employment

New York Museum of Modern Art

Stony Brook University

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Howardena Pindell's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Howardena Pindell lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Howardena Pindell describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Howardena Pindell describes her father

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Howardena Pindell describes her father's childhood and personality

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Howardena Pindell talks about her father's activism

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Howardena Pindell describes how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Howardena Pindell describes her parent's personalities

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Howardena Pindell describes her paternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Howardena Pindell describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Howardena Pindell talks about her mother's family members who passed as white

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Howardena Pindell describes her mother

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Howardena Pindell describes her parent's marriage

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Howardena Pindell describes her mother's education and temperament

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Howardena Pindell talks about her mother's childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Howardena Pindell talks about being an only child

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Howardena Pindell describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Howardena Pindell describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Howardena Pindell recalls her neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Howardena Pindell recalls her experiences of racial discrimination in Philadelphia

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Howardena Pindell recalls her experiences of racial discrimination while travelling

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Howardena Pindell describes her early education in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Howardena Pindell describes her early talent for art

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Howardena Pindell describes her experiences in grade school

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Howardena Pindell remembers her high school education in Philadelphia

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Howardena Pindell describes her social life and pastimes as a teenager

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Howardena Pindell recalls her difficulties at school in Philadelphia

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Howardena Pindell recalls her art teachers at Philadelphia High School for Girls

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Howardena Pindell remembers her early interest in reading

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Howardena Pindell remembers her high school prom

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Howardena Pindell describes her lack of interest in sports as a child

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Howardena Pindell recalls her parent's political involvement

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Howardena Pindell recalls her decision to attend Boston University

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Howardena Pindell describes her experience of racial discrimination at Boston University

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Howardena Pindell describes her early artwork

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Howardena Pindell recalls being hired by New York City's Museum of Modern Art

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Howardena Pindell recalls how the Vietnam War influenced her artwork

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Howardena Pindell remembers the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Howardena Pindell recalls President John Fitzgerald Kennedy's assassination

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Howardena Pindell recalls protests against New York City's museums

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Howardena Pindell remembers being a black, female curator in late 1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Howardena Pindell recalls the founding of Artists in Residence Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Howardena Pindell talks about discrimination in commercial art galleries

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Howardena Pindell talks about black artists' exclusion from galleries

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Howardena Pindell remembers her artistic breakthrough in the early 1970s

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Howardena Pindell explains the use of number in her art

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Howardena Pindell recalls her car accident

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Howardena Pindell remembers teaching at Stony Brook University

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Howardena Pindell talks about making her artwork accessible to the black community

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Howardena Pindell describes the subjects of her artwork, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Howardena Pindell describes the subjects of her artwork, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Howardena Pindell describes her 'Autobiography' painting series

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Howardena Pindell describes the influence of astronomy upon her work

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Howardena Pindell recalls publishing a study of discrimination in the art world

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Howardena Pindell talks about artist Kara Walker

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Howardena Pindell talks about other artists she admires

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Howardena Pindell talks about her travels

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Howardena Pindell describes her experiences in Japan

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Howardena Pindell talks about her travels in India and Africa

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Howardena Pindell talks about the spiritual component of African American art

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Howardena Pindell talks about the representation of African Americans in art

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Howardena Pindell describes her plans for future artwork

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Howardena Pindell shares advice for aspiring artists

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Howardena Pindell reflects upon her life

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Howardena Pindell reflects upon the importance of history

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Howardena Pindell describes her concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Howardena Pindell shares a message for future generations

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Howardena Pindell describes her legacy and how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 12 - Howardena Pindell narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$5

DAStory

9$2

DATitle
Howardena Pindell recalls her experiences of racial discrimination while travelling
Howardena Pindell describes the subjects of her artwork, pt. 1
Transcript
Now, was there a time when you were traveling with your family, something about root beer mugs?$$Oh, gosh, oh yeah. It was the reason why I use circles. Yes, my father [Howard Pindell] and mother [Mildred Lewis Pindell] and I would periodically drive to Ohio, and in fact, that was always difficult because the, the motels would not allow black people to stay there so we had to like really drive fast (laughter), or drive you know like all night. In fact at one point they took a cook stove and we would cook out in the woods 'cause you couldn't, so in segregation you couldn't even get food. My father and I, my mother was busy with her mother [Loula Lewis] and her sisters, I think maybe Entellena [Entellena Lewis] was there, her youngest sister, and my father and I drove into Kentucky and my father loved root beer so we stopped at a root beer stand, I mean my father was someone say if it says, "You can't go there," you'd go there anyway, and they served us root beer you know in chilled mugs, but at the bottom of the mug was a big red circle, and apparently in the South what they would do if they were willing to serve people of color, they would mark the silverware and the glassware, so what they had I mean, if you, it was a circle about the size of the base of this glass you know on a root beer mug. And I asked my father, you know, "What is that?" And he explained that if you're colored, you're African American, then they will mark your silverware, your glassware, dishware with a red circle. So I always tell people you know I was scared by a red circle, by a circle, and so I was obsessing about circles ever since, but I remember being just genuinely shocked, you know, that we would, you know, that anyone would get you know silverware. I can remember when we had driven south, I think we were going to visit some of my parents' friends in the Carolinas in Durham [North Carolina], going to a filling station and the rudeness of these sort of redneck guys that ran the station, the way they talked to my father calling him Howard, and you know because I had the credit card, and then you were like terrorized, you know you didn't want to go to the bathroom anywhere, because if--you know you either run into that kind of you know hillbilly kind of offensive behavior or it could be dangerous. So I can remember traveling with them and my father wearily going into a motel and being told it's no vacancy and then when you leave it says vacancy sign is on that they don't want anyone black. I would say, yeah those are my memories from the '40s [1940s] maybe early '50s [1950s].$$How did those, well how did it make you feel though as a child?$$Upset, insecure, angry, but I think that the thing that really brought it home was the white teacher, inappropriately being furious at a student who followed her directions (laughter) you know like what is this? So ever since then I just--it's also I think given me a kind of uncomfortable feeling about white women, that I've always found when I've dealt with, like in current times that are not as segregated or not, it's more subtle that I find there's always this and I even get the phrase from an Asian friend, she said when you're around white women, the white women act like, I'm white and I'm in charge here. This particular individual was an Asian woman artist who was talking about the women's movement and how if you get involved in a women's group, the white women always assume that they're the authority, they're in charge. So, I've run into that umpteen times.$Tell me about some of the pieces that you have done that--?$$Oh, the big ones?$$Yeah, the ones that you have to do the research for that you enjoy doing now?$$Well, I did a piece that was in my last show, it was called 'In My Lifetime' and what I have is like a strip of I think red at the bottom representing blood in terms of slavery and wars and stuff and then I have a section of water which somehow the Middle Passage comes back into my work, a lot I want to keep referring to that. Then above that is another strip of, of water but it's all done in camouflage patterns you would have on a military uniform and then on this field you have two screaming heads, my head at maybe '40s [1940s] and the other maybe in the '50s [1950s], so it's like it represents a passage of time and the top there is a strip of images from bomb tests in the Pacific [Pacific Ocean] as well as Nagasaki [Japan], I don't remember if I included Hiroshima [Japan], but I wanted to refer to in my lifetime these wars have happened, these holocausts have happened. And then I use a photo transfer process to show various atrocities. I had to do the research to even find the images. I mean some I got through the library which were the bombs, bomb images and then, and then I just used the photo realistic process to translate, then the image is like I have an Angolan child with no limbs, with no legs from when we were the ones that sponsored the, putting landmines in Angola, we have to have the largest amputation rate in the world. Then there are images from Iraq because I was really against the Iraq War from the beginning and then the embargo which starved, you know millions to death. I mean we're doing we're killing, you know it's all killing, so I look at image, well I found images of children in bomb shelters where we in Iraq, we had bombed and killed women and children, so I have images. It's a hard thing to look at, and then at the bottom of the painting, the painting is about the size of that wall, maybe twelve feet by about I think this one is about eight feet high, or seven feet, and then at the front of the painting I have like a tree stump, like you know like a tree surgeon would have given me. It's literally the from here to here and maybe about that big and round, and on it is a Bible, a large print Bible. At the top of the various pages are stamped with rubber stamps, different holocausts, including not only the Holocaust that the Jews went through, although I find so often the Jewish people see it as the, the only holocaust, but Rwanda and Angola, you know just so when you flip the Bible you have these different holocausts; mainly to express in, well there are two things: one is my usual struggle about God whether he exists or not, and culpability or responsibility (laughter). Okay, one thing is the Bible says throughout it that God will protect you, the meek will inherit the earth, and I'm saying like, "So where, where, when does this start?" You know, it hasn't happened and there's been all these wars and the other that there are various religions that say you know, you know, they claim to be good and yet they will foment wars, like what's happening with the Evangelical Christians seeing that pushing war, pushes what they feel is like the end times; you know it's terrifying that Bush [President George Walker Bush] would start a war in order to fulfill prophecy, or fulfill his friend's prophecy and also line his friends' pockets with you know, a lot of money--so you know just war profiteering. So it was all that sort of in one piece.