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Artist Elizabeth Catlett remembered; dead at 96 in Mexico

April 4, 2012 | 10:54 am

"Red Cross Woman (Nurse)"
REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- Elizabeth Catlett, a U.S.-born artist who directly confronted the injustices faced by African Americans and celebrated black identity and culture through her work, has died in her longtime home in Mexico.

Catlett, who died Monday, had lived in Mexico since 1946. She spent most of her years here as an exile from the United States, which in 1962 tagged her an "undesirable alien" after she became a Mexican citizen. Her U.S. citizenship was eventually reinstated in 2002.

A sculptor and printmaker, she had recently begun to gain international renown for her long body of work.

Read the L.A. Times obituary on Elizabeth Catlett here.

"Confident that art could foster social change, Catlett confronted the most disturbing injustices against African Americans, including lynchings and beatings," says The Times article written by Mary Rourke and Valerie J. Nelson. "One of her best-known sculptures, 'Target' (1970), was created after police shot a Black Panther; it shows a black man's head framed by a rifle sight."

In Mexico, she belonged to the international circle of new artists that included Diego Rivera and Pablo O'Higgins, which early on was partly centered at the printmaking collective Taller de Grafica Popular. Between 1959 and 1975, Catlett chaired the sculpture department at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, training many young Mexican artists and teaching in Spanish.

Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico's ambassador to the U.S., memorialized Catlett in a message via Twitter on Tuesday night: "Mexico & the US today lose a great sculptor and printmaker, Elizabeth Catlett, an American by birth and a Mexican by choice."

Reporting her death, Mexico's national arts council said: "Through her work, Elizabeth Catlett always demonstrated her interest in social justice and the rights of black Mexican women."

Catlett is survived by Mexican children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. You can see more of her work and read more about her personal history here.

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-- Daniel Hernandez

Image: "Red Cross Woman (Nurse)" (1944) by Elizabeth Catlett. Credit: California African American Museum

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