The LA Times remembers her as one of the most prominent African American artists of the 20th century:
“I wanted to show the history and strength of all kinds of black women,” Catlett told the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times in 1992. “Working women, country women, urban women, great women in the history of the United States.”
The LA Times continues:
Catlett’s decision to focus on her ethnic identity, and its association with slavery and class struggles, was bold and unconventional in the 1930s and ’40s, when African Americans were expected “to assimilate themselves into a more Eurocentric ethic,” art curator Lowery Stokes Sims said in a 1993 National Public Radio interview.
Confident that art could foster social change, Catlett confronted the most disturbing injustices against African Americans, including lynchings and beatings. 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.
Catlett was at one point barred from the U.S. during the McCarthy era for over a decade because of her political activism in Mexico, after she was arrested during a railroad workers protest.
The Associated Press writes:
The smooth, stylized faces she sculpted were less about individual people and more about the dignity and nobility of universal man, woman and child — sculpture that’s meant to comfort, uplift and inspire.
Her prints expressed her lifelong commitment to use art as a tool for social change, often incorporating the slogans (“Black Is Beautiful”) and revolutionary heroes (Angela Davis and Malcolm X) of the civil rights and black power movements.