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Persevere and Resist: The Strong Black Women of Elizabeth Catlett

Persevere and Resist: The Strong Black Women of Elizabeth Catlett


This welcome catalogue presents exciting new scholarship on the work of Mexican and American artist Elizabeth Catlett (1915–2012). Accompanying an exhibition at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Persevere and Resist: The Strong Black Women of Elizabeth Catlett reconsiders her works through the lens of contemporary psychology and sociology.


Catlett was one of the most important visual chroniclers of the African American experience in the 20th century. In 1946, she was awarded the prestigious Rosenwald Fund Fellowship to travel to Mexico. Her early experiments with printmaking with the Taller de Gráfica Popular resulted in a series of 15 prints titled, The Black Woman (1946–1947) of which the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art is one of only three known American arts institutions to own a full series. In addition to her print and drawing practice, Catlett was also an accomplished sculptor working in stone, wood, and clay in her lengthy career, which spanned over six decades.


Taking The Black Woman series as a point of departure, Heather Nickels will explore Catlett’s oeuvre as illustrative of such contemporary phenomena as the “StrongBlackWoman” (SBW) trope, Afrofemcentrism, and misogynoir. Nickels will offer an alternative reading of the stances, postures, and expressions of Catlett’s women, considering the impact of intergenerational trauma, with its roots in chattel slavery, on African Americans. After examining the SBW trope and its paradoxes, she poses the question “What now?” and considers possible remedies through an examination of the ways in which Black artists have mined pain and sorrow to inform and inspire literary, performing and visual production, creating Black joy in spaces

made by and for Black women.



On view at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art from June 5 to August 29, 2021, the exhibition will feature approximately 35 prints and sculptures, fully illustrated in the catalogue. Persevere and Resist is curated by Heather Nickels, the Joyce Blackmon Curatorial Fellow of African American Art and Art of the African Diaspora at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art (MBMA) in Memphis, Tennessee. This publication will also include an essay by noted Catlett expert Dr. Melanie Herzog who will explore Catlett’s life through the lens of today’s social concerns.

  • June 2021

    By Heather Nickels, with a contribution by Melanie Herzog

    Softback, 250 x 200 mm

    96 pages, 45 illustrations

    ISBN: 978-1-913645-10-6

  • Exhibition

    Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Tennessee

    5 June – 29 August 2021

  • In the press

    ""The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art is one of only three museums that owns the entire fifteen-print collection, which is significant in that the images and their titles, when read in sequence, narrate an heroic and painful history of African American women ... the book is a must read.” —Print Quarterly 


    "striking, comprehensive catalog" —Daily Memphian

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