Dindga McCannon Is Anything But Invisible

The 74-year-old artist brings historical stories of Black feminism to New York’s Fridman Gallery.
Abigail Glasgow, Cultured Mag, October 7, 2021

At 74, Dindga McCannon believes that her best work is yet to come. The mixed media artist’s first major solo exhibition in a five-decade career, In Plain Sight, is on view at Fridman Gallery through October 21. Between feathers, shells, sparkles, photographs, rich colors and paintbrushes affixed to various canvases and quilts, McCannon’s art is a bold declaration of Black feminist storytelling, and the show highlights a long timeline, including pieces of hers that date back to the 1980s. Some will also be featured at Art Basel this December.

McCannon herself is iconic—a walking art piece enveloped in regal purple (her favorite color). Shuffling into our interview with fluffy slippers and a quilted ensemble, her presence mimicked her work. It is evident through her stories and her physical company that she has always shown up as herself, even faced with the Eurocentric, racist confines of the art world she grew up in as a Harlem-based, Black woman making her way When we sat down surrounded by her work, she shared with me how this choice to be an artist finds grounding in the remarkability of women’s resilience and walks me through vivid stories that take us from a South African restaurant to a Haitian beach.



Abigail Glasgow: Let's start with your background—how did you come to this artwork in the first place?


Dindga McCannon: I grew up in Harlem; around 17 years [old] we moved to the Bronx. I first decided I was going to become an artist somewhere around the age of 10 or 11 and I can't remember what it was that made me want to do something so unusual. Because obviously for women, for Black people, careers as artists weren’t an option. But because the process of doing art gave me so much joy, I decided this was it for me.


I drew comic books, like the ones in the New York Daily News. Around fifth grade, there was a young lady in my class named Lorraine—she had thick Coca Cola glasses and sat in the back of the class. One day, I went back there to see what she was up to because she wasn't paying attention. She was painting! When I saw her using tempera, I said, “I have to get some.” I did and one thing led to another. Then, the summer I was 17, I couldn't get a job so I went to volunteer for the American Red Cross. They sent me to a school where I told the director that I like to do art. That ended up being my first teaching experience. He told me about this awesome group of artists displaying their work on 127th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. I said, “Artists in Harlem?” At that time, they were called the Twenty Century Art Creators. A year later, they split up and became the Weusi Artist Collective. It was from them that I learned the basics of all things art. In fact, I had my first one-woman show around 18 in Harlem on 135th Street. They taught me stuff like how you stretch a canvas, where you get your paint from—there used to be a guy who came to Harlem with a suitcase full of Winsor Newton oil paint, which at the time was probably the most expensive oil paint you could get. He was selling to us at a discount. Those were my beginning, formative years.