April 14, 1943
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America
|Education||BFA, Boston University, School of Fine and Applied Arts,1965
MFA, Yale School of Art and Architecture,1967
|Known for||Painting, collage, video art, mixed media|
Howardena Pindell, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 1943, to Howard and Mildred (Lewis) Douglas, is an American abstract artist. Her work explores texture, color, structures, and the process of making art; it is often political, addressing the issues of racism, feminism, violence, slavery, and exploitation. She is known for her use of unconventional materials in her paintings including string, perfume, glitter, and postcards.
Education, museum work, and teaching career
Howardena Pindell is a graduate of the Philadelphia High School for Girls. From a young age, she demonstrated promise in figurative art classes at the Philadelphia College of Art, the Fleisher Art Memorial, and the Tyler School of Art. Ultimately, she received her BFA from Boston University in 1965 and her MFA from Yale University in 1967. She also holds honorary doctorates from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and Parsons The New School for Design.
After graduating from Yale, she began working at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, where she was employed from 1967-1979 in a number of different positions, including exhibit assistant, curatorial assistant, and associate curator. In 1977, she became associate curator of the department of Prints and Illustrated Books. All the while, Pindell continued to spend her nights creating her own pieces, drawing inspiration from many of the exhibits hosted by MoMA, especially the museum's collection of Akan batakari tunics in the exhibit African Textiles and Decorative Arts.
In the mid-1970s, Pindell began travelling abroad as a guest speaker and lecturer. Her seminars included "Current American and Black American Art: A Historical Survey" at the Madras College of Arts and Crafts in India 1975, and another simply titled "Black Artists, U.S.A." at the Academy of Art in Oslo, Norway 1976.
Pindell had known she wanted to be an artist since age 8, but over the years her style has evolved, as has her subject matter. The first shift occurred after she received her masters from Yale in 1967. It was in this time, after moving to New York, when she began her work with abstracts and collaging, finding inspiration in the work of fellow grad school student Nancy Murata. Her earliest paintings had been mostly urban scenes, but in the 1970s, she began developing a unique style rooted in minimalism and pointillism. As she experimented with the process of creating her paintings, Pindell began making use of the scrap circles of oaktag paper that resulted from the production of her pointillist works. As David Bourdon writes, "By 1974, Pindell developed a more three-dimensional and more personal form of pointillism, wielding a paper punch to cut out multitudes of confetti-like disks, which she dispersed with varying degrees of premeditation and randomness over the surfaces of her pictures."
In these years, Pindell also describes feeling great influence in her work from the Black Power and feminist movements, as well as from exposure to new art forms during her day job at MoMA and her travels abroad (particularly to Africa). She became fascinated by traditional African Art (exhibited at MoMA and in the Brooklyn Museum of Art), and began to mirror the African art practices of encoding and accumulation in her own work. The material of these pieces also informed Pindell's work: while African art embraces the use of objects in sculpture such as beads, horns, shells, hair, and claws, so Pindell's collages began to incorporate additional elements including paper, glitter, acrylic, and dye.
In 1969, Pindell gained recognition for her participation in the exhibition American Drawing Biennial XXIII at the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences, and by 1972, had her first major exhibition at Spelman College in Atlanta. In 1973, her work with circles received acclaim at a show in the A.I.R. (Artists-In-Residence) Gallery in SoHo (which she helped to found), where her style had solidified into expression through "large-scale, untitled, nonrepresentational, abstract paintings." 
In 1979, Pindell was in a traumatic car accident from which she suffered severe loss of memory. It was at this point that her work became much more autobiographical, in part as an effort to help herself heal. Her painting Autobiography, which was part of an eight-painting series on her recovery, used Pindell's own body as the focal point. For this piece, she cut and sewed a traced outline of herself onto a large piece of canvas as part of a complex collage.
Throughout the 1980s, she continued to work with expressions of identity through her painting, particularly on her own negotiation of multiple identities, as she claims heritage that blends African, European, Seminole, Central American, and Afro-Caribbean roots, along with her position as ethnically Jewish, raised Christian. During this time, her pieces also became increasingly political, addressing women's issues, racism, child abuse, slavery, and AIDS. According to Pindell herself, among critics of this new work, "There was a nostalgia for my non-issue related work of the 1970s."
In 1980 she made a video called Free, White, and 21, in which she appears in a blonde wig, dark glasses, and with a pale stocking over her head as a caricature of a white woman, discussing instances of racism that she has experienced throughout her life. Soon she began expending a particular focus on racism in the art world, a subject on which she has published multiple writings. In 1980, she openly addressed what she considered to be the persistent presence of racism even within the feminist movement, organizing a show at AIR titled The Dialectics of Isolation: An Exhibition of Third World Women Artists of the US. Then after becoming aware that she had often been selected for exhibition as a token black among a group of other artists, she and Carolyn Martin cofounded a cross-generational black women's artist collective called "Entitled: Black Women Artists," that has since grown to international membership, likely thanks to Pindell's consistent travel and lecturing. Over the years, she has visited five continents and lived in Japan, Sweden, and India for periods of time, all the while producing new work, and lecturing/writing on racism and the art community.
In the 1990s, Pindell displayed a series of memorial works in addition to a sequence of "word" paintings, in which her body in silhouette is overlaid with words such as "slave trade," (this is not unlike an earlier work about South Africa that features a slashed canvas roughly stitched back together and the word "INTERROGATION" laid on top).
Since her first major show at Spelman in 1972, Pindell has exhibited in almost every following year for over 30 years, either as a solo artist, or in a group exhibition. Her work is part of permanent collections in the Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Museum, High Museum in Atlanta, Newark Museum, Fogg Museum in Cambridge Massachusetts, Whitney Museum of American Art, and more. Additionally, her work has seen international and esteemed exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen, The Detroit Institute of Arts, Chase-Manhattan Bank in New York, and Wadsworth Atheneum in Connecticut.
Pindell has received numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in painting in 1987, the Most Distinguished Body of Work or Performance Award, granted by the College Art Association in 1990, the Studio Museum of Harlem Artist Award, the Distinguished Contribution to the Profession Award from the Women's Caucus for Art in 1996, and two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships.
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- Mira Schor, Emma Amos, Susan Bee, Johanna Drucker, María Fernández, Amelia Jones, Shirley Kaneda, Helen Molesworth, Howardena Pindell, Mira Schor, Collier Schorr & Faith Wilding (1999) Contemporary Feminism: Art Practice, Theory, and Activism—An Intergenerational Perspective, Art Journal, 58:4, 8-29, DOI: 10.1080/00043249.1999.10791962
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