By Alejandra Gonzalez

In her 70-year long career, Elizabeth Catlett created sculptures that celebrate the strength and endurance of African-American and Mexican women. Granddaughter of former slaves, Catlett lived in Washington D.C. for more than three decades until moving to Mexico City with her husband on a grant from the Rosenwald Foundation. Catlett used her art to explore themes relating to race and feminism through sculptures, paintings, and prints, in which most women during the mid-1900’s could share similar experiences. Catlett was refused admission to Carnegie Institute of Technology because of her race, later enrolling at Howard University. She graduated with honors in 1935 and went on to earn the first Master of Fine Arts in sculpture at the University of Iowa five years later.

Being black herself, race has had an influential impact on her, Catlett highlighted the struggle of black people with her art. In hopes of being vocal on segregation and the fight for civil rights, Catlett explains “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.” Her work began to gain interest during the 1960s and 1970s, almost entirely in the United States because of social movements her works covered like the Black Arts Movement and feminism. Catlett is known largely for her sculptures, especially for works such as Homage to My Young Black Sisters (1968) and various mother-child pairings, later becoming one of her central themes.

In the 1940s, she traveled to Mexico on a fellowship and began to paint murals influenced by the work of famous Mexican artist such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Until her death in 2012 in Cuernavaca, Mexico at the age of 96, Catlett received numerous awards and recognition. Catlett’s artwork are held at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and the
Art Institute of Chicago, amongst others.

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