To Elizabeth Catlett, the face is a key to both racial identity and the inner essence of humanity. This is particularly true of Singing Head, part African, part pre-Columbian in derivation. The enigmatic, undulating form exudes a somber vitality suggestive not simply of the power of song but of life itself.
Catlett was a native of Washington, D.C., who spent most of her career in Mexico. She was educated at Howard University and the University of Iowa, where she studied with the regionalist painter Grant Wood. Throughout her life, she dedicated herself to subjects she knew well – the lives of women, the heritage of black Americans and pre-Columbian cultures, and the trials of the poor. After almost a decade devoted to printmaking, Catlett turned to sculpture in 1955 with a series that focused on motherhood and the black woman. Her work grew increasingly abstract and more militantly devoted to the troubled groups toward whom she gravitated. In the 1960s, she broadened the theme of womankind to symbolize all human dignity and strength.