Dindga McCannon – interview: ‘Not having money never stopped me creating what I wanted’

Veronica Simpson, Studio International , October 18, 2022

Dindga McCannon, who was born in 1947 in New York City, has dedicated her life and work to the celebration of black culture - and the power, creativity and resilience of black women in particular - in exuberant works that range from textiles across prints to sculpture. She has played a vital part as an artist and teacher in activist and feminist communities in Harlem and the Bronx, where she was raised, and Philadelphia, where she now lives. She is hugely celebrated within those communities and within the wider fibre arts arena, so it is a shock to find that only now, in her mid-70s, is she having her first European solo show, at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in London. Perhaps more shocking is that her first US solo show was only last year (In Plain Sight, at the Fridman Gallery, New York).

Although she was discouraged from pursuing art when, aged 10, she first announced her intention, she was allowed to go to a school where fashion design was studied. This led to her early discovery of the power of fabric, colour and texture. Graduating at 17, she got a job as a volunteer teacher and attended night classes at the City College of New York. During this time, she discovered the Black Arts Movement, which made art that put black people and their experiences at its centre. With some of its members, she went on to form the Weusi Artist Collective, and immersed herself in studying, learning what she could, and getting involved in the vibrant activist movements across art, politics, music and literature. She left City College after two years and went to the Art Students League of New York in Manhattan, where tutors included the artists Jacob Lawrence and Richard Mayhew.

Feminism became a major focus of her life and work in the 1970s and she started the collective Where We At, Black Women Artists, along with Faith Ringgold and Kay Brown. Her practice – still largely painting and printmaking – expanded to include quilting at this point. This was further encouraged in 1998 by the reaction to her first quilt in a museum, shown as part of Spirits of the Cloth: Contemporary African American quilts at the American Craft Museum in New York.


She has carried on teaching, making and exhibiting, despite the contemporary art world’s slowness to catch up with her. There is work of hers in many US collections, including the Brooklyn Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and Michigan State University. Her work appeared recently in We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85, organised by the Brooklyn Museum; and Black Power at the National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee.


Studio spoke with Dindga in person, at the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, as her show was being prepared.