In a career spanning more than 70 years, Elizabeth Catlett has created sculptures that celebrate the heroic strength and endurance of African-American and Mexican working-class women. With simple, clear shapes she evokes both the physical and spiritual essence of her subjects. Her hardy laborers and nurturing mothers radiate both power and a timeless dignity and calm. Whether working in wood, stone, bronze, or clay, Catlett reveals an extraordinary technical virtuosity, a natural ability to meld her curving female forms with the grain, whorls, color, or luster of her chosen medium. The beauty of her subjects is matched by the beauty she reveals in her sculptural materials.
Throughout her career, Catlett has been a political progressive committed to improving the lives of African-American and Mexican women, and she has often used her art explicitly to advance their cause. She has also protested, picketed, and even been arrested in her quest to win justice for those she describes as “my people.” Moving from the United States to Mexico in 1946, she was eventually identified as an “undesirable alien” by the U.S. State Department. For nearly a decade she was barred from visiting the United States.
Despite these struggles, Catlett’s art reveals no trace of bitterness or despair. Indeed, she has remained true to the universal, life-affirming themes that first animated her sculpture in the 1940s’the beauty of the human form and the nobility of the human condition. At age 95, she continues to create, guided by those unshakeable ideals.