Throughout her career, Elizabeth Catlett addressed two compelling issues: social justice and the lives of women. Her admiration for the politically significant work of the Mexican Muralists led her to Mexico City in 1946; a year later she established permanent residency and lived in Cuernavaca until her death. Over the years, her work assimilated global influences ranging from the European-based traditions of her education to her own discoveries of African and Olmec sculpture. This small, terra-cotta head eloquently represents Catlett’s syncretic approach. While the rounded head shape and high cheekbones resemble those of the colossal stone heads made by the Olmec people of southern Mexico (between 1200 and 400 BCE), the generous features and hair texture evoke a beauty of African descent. This blending of distinctive characteristics speaks of the enriching potential of diaspora and an inherent human dignity that transcends ethnic and national differences.

From Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 89 (2015)
Artist Elizabeth Catlett, American, 1915 - 2012
  • Terra-Cotta Head
Date ca. 1960
Medium Terracotta
Dimensions Overall: 8 1/4 × 9 1/4 × 11 inches (21 × 23.5 × 27.9 cm)
Credit Line Museum Purchase, Friends of African and African American Art
Accession Number 2006.63
Department African American Art
On View African American N290, Level 2 (see map)
(Top Hat Antiques, Northville, Michigan, USA);
2006-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)