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Elizabeth Catlett

Naomi Beckwith, curator at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, examines the overlooked African-American printmaker and sculptor Elizabeth Catlett.

Naomi Beckwith, curator at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, continues the series exploring overlooked visual artists from the 20th century. Art history has been written from a white, western male perspective. What would an alternative canon look like?

Born in 1915, Elizabeth Catlett became the first African American woman to receive a Master of Fine Arts. She was blacklisted in the McCarthy era and spent most of her adult life in Mexico City. Catlett was dedicated to representing the beauty and strength she saw in black women in her woodcuts and sculptures. Well known by many black American artists, she's received little attention from the mainstream artistic canon and from international institutions. According to the musician Rufus Reid, she had three strikes against her - she was black, she was a woman, and she made art that was politically motivated.

Contributors include Richard J. Powell (Dean of Humanities and the John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art and Art History at Duke University) and Rufus Reid (Jazz bassist, educator, and composer).

Archive audio courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The series features artists selected by three curators from different backgrounds - Iwona Blazwick (Director of the Whitechapel Gallery), Hans Ulrich Obrist (Artistic Director of the Serpentine Galleries) and Naomi Beckwith (Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago). Told broadly chronologically, the series explores why these artists have been obscured and why some are now being reinstated into the 20th century artistic canon.

Presenter: Naomi Beckwith
Producer: Michael Umney
Researcher: Jessie Lawson
Executive Producer: Joby Waldman
A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 4

Image courtesy of Burning in Water Gallery.

Available now

15 minutes