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Department ofArt and Art History

Squeak Carnwath

Squeak Carnwath

Then We Must

The title of Squeak Carnwath’s painting THEN WE MUST demands our action IF WE KNOW, which is emblazoned in large letters across the canvas. These words are a fragment from James Baldwin’s An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis. Baldwin writes, “If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own.” 

Behind the large letters are banner-like swaths of color, along with telling images of a sinking ship, the planet earth, a cell phone, a clock alerting us NOW is the TIME, symbols and drawings rendered in paint, and much more. We are bombarded with words – layers of text, from the news, quotes, protest chants, demands, and journal-like thoughts, which fill the space with the same energy and urgency as the passionate speeches and marches which engendered them. Carnwath paints with the language of our times so that we may hear, compelling us to respond to our world with empathy, duty and determination.


In this time of COVID19, our days have become monotonous and sometimes isolated. We share a collective yearning to be out with people and be together without the fear and problems of the pandemic. In Again, Squeak Carnwath asks “Will We ever Be All Together AGAIN, Close”. Above this question we see handprints, our most unique human signature, which has marked our presence since the earliest times. Again makes us consider this ancient, basic need to be together, to be known and leave evidence, I am here. 

Again also makes us consider being together again in ways that transcend the physical. Current events have awakened us to the extent of our isolation and division. The different shades of paint for the hands, speak to the diversity of our physical characteristics, and conceptually to our differences in political and religious views, education and socioeconomic groups. 

While we might have thought we were “together” in the past, perhaps we now realize we really weren’t as close as we hoped. There is much work to be done to unite us - to truly be all together again, close. Again, in this sense, seems more like an earnest wish; our dream for the future. The hands on the canvas, banging and pounding to be let free, to go out and make this dream a reality.

About the Artist

Squeak Carnwath draws upon the philosophical and mundane experiences of daily life in her paintings and prints, which can be identified by lush fields of color combined with text, patterns, and identifiable images. She has received numerous awards including the Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art (SECA) Award from San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, two Individual Artist Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Award for Individual Artists from the Flintridge Foundation, and the Lee Krasner Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. In 2019, she was inducted into the National Academy of Design and Art. Carnwath is Professor Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley. She lives and works in Oakland, CA.