Crossing Borders through Folklore: African American Women's Fiction and Art

Crossing Borders through Folklore: African American Women's Fiction and Art

Crossing Borders through Folklore: African American Women's Fiction and Art

Crossing Borders through Folklore: African American Women's Fiction and Art


Examining works by Toni Morrison, Paule Marshall, Faith Ringgold, and Betye Saar, this innovative book frames black women's aesthetic sensibilities across art forms. Investigating the relationship between vernacular folk culture and formal expression, this study establishes how each of the four artists engaged the identity issues of the 1960s and used folklore as a strategy for crossing borders in the works they created during the following two decades.

As a dynamic, open-ended process, folklore historically has enabled African-descended people to establish differential identity, resist dominance, and affirm group solidarity. This book documents the use of expressive forms of folklore in the fiction of Morrison and Marshall and the use of material forms of folklore in the visual representations of Ringgold and Saar. Offering a conceptual paradigm of a folk aesthetic to designate the practices these women use to revise and reverse meanings-especially meanings imposed on images such as Aunt Jemima and Sambo- Crossing Borders through Folklore explains how these artists locate sites of intervention and reconnection. From these sites, in keeping with the descriptive and prescriptive formulations for art during the sixties, Morrison, Marshall, Ringgold, and Saar articulate new dimensions of consciousness and creatively theorize identity.

Crossing Borders through Folklore is a significant and creative contribution to scholarship in both established and still- emerging fields. This volume also demonstrates how recent theorizing across scholarly disciplines has created elastic metaphors that can be used to clarify a number of issues. Because of its interdisciplinary approach, this study will appeal to students and scholars in many fields, including African American literature, art history, women's studies, diaspora studies, and cultural studies.


For people of African descent in the Americas, forced migration, dislocation, and displacement produced an experiential borderland. Borderlands, Gloria Anzaldúa tells us, are present whenever different races occupy the same geographical space, whenever two or more cultures edge each other. Because borders are erected to separate, marginalize, and exclude, borderlands are sites of contestation, transition, and flux. At the same time, they are places of communication, negotiation, and exchange.

In the United States, the shifting political and cultural landscape of the 1960s constituted a temporal and psychosocial borderland, a historic terrain where the lines delineating racial, social, and economic difference were challenged and exploited. For African Americans, the decade of the sixties was not only a time of intense political activism, but also a time of historical revision, shifting consciousness, and cultural affirmation.

This study takes as its point of departure the 1960s and the use of folklore as a strategy for border crossing in the works by two contemporary African American women writers, Paule Marshall and Toni Morrison, and two visual artists, Faith Ringgold and Betye Saar. It delineates how, during the 1970s and early 1980s, perhaps the most intense era since the Harlem Renaissance for the production and institutionalization of African American art, these women . . .

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