Skip to main content

African Americans have played an important role in the history of the United States and yet are not as equally represented in the spectrum of American art. However, following the events of WWII the dynamics and realities of a multi-cultural America were captured by more artists of the era. Look at Julian Joseph’s Subway Scene for clues that reference what every day life might have been like for those featured in this painting. Other works of art were similarly inspired by public transportation systems, such as Faith Ringgold’s Subway Graffiti #3. How have African-American artists such as Faith Ringgold reclaimed mediums of their cultural heritage previously denied the designation of fine art?

Julian Joseph (1882–1964) Subway Scene

Gift of Dr. George Nicholson


Faith Ringgold (b. 1930) Subway Graffiti #3

Gift of Curtis and Mary Ann Atkisson, Sam and Diane Stewart, Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley, Stephen and Martha West, David and Bianca Lisonbee, Craig and Marilyn Faulkner


Hidden image


Julian Joseph’s Subway Scene shows individuals from a variety of demographics. There are other unidentifiable figures on either side of these figures that emphasize the seemingly casual neutrality of this space of public transportation. Classes, races, and genders mix in cosmopolitan New York, showcasing the diversity and breadth of all those whose spheres overlap on a daily basis.

Faith Ringgold works with textiles and especially quilts, which have long been an important tradition and source of familial pride in African-American culture. Fabrics and materials were less expensive than other artistic media such as oil paints, and they were also more practical and could serve as functional objects. Artists and art historians of the 1970s demanded that artistic media traditionally created by women, such as ceramics and textiles, be treated as art objects.