“Singing Head” by Elizabeth Catlett

Elizabeth Catlett, Singing Head, 1980, black Mexican marble, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 16 x 9 1/2 x 12 in. (40.7 x 24.2 x 30.5 cm.)

“…Singing Head, part African, part pre-Columbian in derivation. The enigmatic, undulating form exudes a somber vitality suggestive not simply of the power of song but of life itself.”[1]

Catlett’s sculpture above is remenscent of sculptures from Africa and pre-Columbia. Many of Catlett’s works reflect African influences especially from African sculpture and masks used for rituals. She spent a good portion of her life Mexico which also explains the pre-Columbian influences as well, possibly from Mezcala* stone idols. For more details, read about Catlett here.

In 1946 Catlett received a Rosenwald Fellowship, and accompanied her husband to Mexico City where they studied painting, sculpture, and lithography. They became acquainted with the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, and lived in his house briefly. In 1947 Catlett and Charles White divorced and Catlett remained in Mexico City where she worked and developed a sense of identity with the city’s residents. She began working with some of Mexico’s most distinguished printmakers, and married the painter-engraver Francisco Mora. Elizabeth Catlett-Mora later became a naturalized citizen of Mexico. Today, she is regarded as one of Mexico’s most celebrated artists. Though she has found warm acceptance in her adopted country, her African-American consciousness has inspired her to continue to produce sculptures and prints that deal with the struggles of African Americans.[2]


Image courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum


Excerpt [1] https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/singing-head/sQFyqAVK7tXNQw?avm=4

*Mezcala was a stone-centered culture that is considered as pre classic. The sculptors of this period carved their votive offerings out of hard stones such as andesite and serpentine. http://store.barakatgallery.com/product/mezcala-stone-idol/

Excerpt [2] from https://americanart.si.edu/artist/elizabeth-catlett-781

Regenia A. Perry Free within Ourselves: African-American Artists in the Collection of the National Museum of American Art (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art in Association with Pomegranate Art Books, 1992)

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