A groundbreaking documentary chronicling the life of a renowned artist and activist with an Iowa connection will premiere in the Quad Cities at the Figge Art Museum (225 W. 2nd St., Davenport) on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023.

“Standing Strong: Elizabeth Catlett,” produced by Marie Wilkes and directed by Kevin Kelley of Iowa City-based New Mile Media Arts, tells the remarkable story of Elizabeth Catlett’s journey to earning an advanced graduate degree from the University of Iowa during a time when African-Americans were denied the right to live on campus.

The new documentary will be shown for free at the Figge Art Museum Thursday, Nov. 9 at 6:30 p.m.

Catlett’s life and legacy have long been a source of inspiration for Black artists, art enthusiasts, activists, and history buffs alike, according to the Figge screening host, Davenport-based Azubuike Arts. “This documentary promises to provide an in-depth exploration of her struggles, triumphs, and the indomitable spirit that made her a trailblazer in the art world and the fight for civil rights,” says an event release.

The event is free and open to the public, and the schedule is as follows:

  • Doors open at 6 p.m.
  • Film screening: 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
  • Q&A with the filmmakers (Marie Wilkes and Kevin Kelley): Immediately following the screening.

The Q&A session with the filmmakers offers attendees a unique opportunity to delve into the behind-the-scenes creation of this powerful documentary, the release said. The event also is made possible through the generous support of the Figge Art Museum, Doris and Victor Day Foundation, and the Rauch Family Foundation.

The film website quotes Catlett (1915-2012) as saying in 2013:

“No other field is closed to those who are not white and male as is the visual arts. After I decided to be an artist, the first thing I had to believe was that I, a black woman, could penetrate the art scene, and that, further, I could do so without sacrificing one iota of my blackness or my femaleness or my humanity.”

This 57-minute documentary on the inspiring life this sculptor, printmaker, educator and social activist, was created with film footage and audio recordings of Catlett, interviews with experts in the arts, humanities and friends who knew her personally.

Artist Elizabeth Catlett attends Oprah Winfrey’s Legends Ball at the Bacara Resort and Spa on May 14, 2005 in Santa Barbara, Calif. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Catlett’s story covers her upbringing and education in Washington D.C., her college years at the University of Iowa (where she was the first African-American female there to earn an MFA in visual arts), and her dawning activism to her life as an artist/educator in Mexico.

Catlett’s socially and politically charged prints and sculptures and her activism put her at odds with the U.S. government, which led her to citizenship in Mexico, where she joined the Taller de Graphica Populara in Mexico City.

A granddaughter of enslaved people, she also was mentored by Grant Wood at the University of Iowa. Her master’s thesis, a limestone sculpture entitled “Negro Mother and Child” (1940), won first place in sculpture at the 1940 Chicago American Negro Exposition. Her work often centered on Black women.

“Standing Strong” filmmakers Marie Wilkes and Kevin Kelley flank the winner, Joseph Puleo, of their 2023 Mid-America Emmy category, Cultural Documentary, at the awards Sept. 30, 2023 in Branson, Mo.

The new documentary earned a nomination for a 2023 MidAmerica Emmy award.

You can see some of Catlett’s artwork HERE.