NPR logo
Artist, Social Justice Activist Dies At 96
  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/150062613/150062602" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Artist, Social Justice Activist Dies At 96

Remembrances

Artist, Social Justice Activist Dies At 96

Artist, Social Justice Activist Dies At 96
  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/150062613/150062602" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Host Michel Martin remembers American artist Elizabeth Catlett, who died this week at the age of 96. Catlett is known for integrating social justice activism in sculptures and prints. That activism caught the eye of the U.S. government at the height of McCarthyism. For years, she was banned from entering the U.S. from her adopted home of Mexico.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we'd like to take a moment to remember a legend in the art world. Elizabeth Catlett died this week. Her depictions of African-American women, famous ones like Harriet Tubman, as well as anonymous women in their everyday lives, are in galleries around the world. Catlett has been described as the matriarch of modernist sculpture for her smooth and simple yet powerful pieces.

Late last year, she told NPR she wasn't so sure she agreed with that statement.

ELIZABETH CATLETT: I'm not the matriarch. I don't know who the matriarch is. I really don't know. I know it's not me.

MARTIN: Elizabeth Catlett was the granddaughter of slaves, and that legacy had a lasting impact on her life and her work. Her art was highly political. She moved to Mexico in the 1940s. From there she supported the civil rights struggle back in the U.S. and also addressed political scandals in Latin America.

Her art and activism caught the attention of the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee during the 1950s. She was denied admission back into the U.S. for nearly a decade after the government labeled her an undesirable alien. Despite the government's scrutiny, Catlett never became a well-known public figure.

CATLETT: I, as an artist, a black woman - artists have been invisible in the art world for years.

MARTIN: And her lesson for other artists?

CATLETT: I hope they would learn to put in their best effort. They would learn to keep a contract on time. What else? Do a good job so they get another one.

MARTIN: Elizabeth Catlett was 96 years old. She leaves behind three sons, 10 grandchildren and six great-children. She died Monday in her home in Mexico.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.