IN BLACK AND WHITE
2 December 2020 to 9 January 2021
Goodman Gallery London
Amer is best known for her erotic embroideries that negotiate social issues, including sexuality and female identity. Through her intricate fabric work, the artist seeks to present a representation of the nude female body, which is autonomous from the burden of the male gaze through needlework, a traditionally female discipline. The artist has received widespread attention for her densely embroidered canvases that feature fragmented erotic imagery sourced from pornographic magazines. Originally produced to inspire lust, the erotic images in Amer’s hands are transformed into meditations on the private nature of ecstasy. “I liked the idea of representing women through the medium of thread because it is so identified with femininity,” says Amer.
“I wanted to ‘paint’ a woman with embroidery, too”.
From afar Ghada Amer’s ANOTHER BLACK PAINTING (2019) reads as an abstract work rendered in rich black colour. On closer inspection, the work depicts a repeated motif of a woman's outline in black thread stitched onto a black painted surface. The repeated figure merges with the background in certain places, then re-appears elsewhere to create an important visual interplay between the abstract appearance of the canvas and its figurative elements, inviting parallels between the linearity of thread and painted brushstrokes. The effect is a visual and intellectual tension between visibility and invisibility, both of the subject depicted and the material ‘objecthood’ of the work itself. In this work, Amer points to traditions of abstraction and the canon of painting, historically dominated by men, and practices of needlework often designated as “women’s work”. ANOTHER BLACK PAINTING directs audiences to look, and look again, and question whether we can rely on vision alone.
Ghada Amer’s ceramic works can be considered in two categories. The first, her slab-based works, use a flat surface of clay as a canvas on which to depict sexual scenes that echo those found in her drawings, prints and paintings. Female figures are rendered in colourful outlines over painterly patches of coloured glaze. The images are therefore imposed onto clay surfaces one could imagine being discovered in an archaeological dig. In contrast, the second category sees more sculptural, tactile objects taking form, as if the artist has prodded, stretched, folded or knotted lumps of clay.
In Ghada Amer’s ceramics her signature style of contoured figures are rendered in rough ceramic forms, instead of being partially obscured by dense thread, the figures are inscribed onto the earthenware form, or folded and knotted in on themselves. Her intense engagement with the material conditions of ceramics to depict painterly concerns is apparent. Adam Welch, director of Greenwich House Pottery where Amer undertook a residency, stated “Though these works fit within a continuation of the ceramic figurative tradition, she defies convention, converting her clay canvases into three-dimensional form. Many artists currently converging on the medium generally do so in a manner distinct from their other art practice. Ghada set out to close the distance across her mediums.”
Ghada Amer (b. 1963, Cairo, Egypt) views herself primarily as a painter, but has worked in a variety of media producing ceramics, site-specific garden works, photographs, prints, drawings, installations, and performance pieces.
Amer’s work explores ideas related to women, femininity and gender roles. In Amer’s well-known erotic embroideries she at once rejects oppressive laws set in place to govern women’s attitudes toward their bodies and repudiates first-wave feminist theory that the body must be denied to prevent victimisation. By depicting explicit sexual acts with the delicacy of needle and thread, the images’ significance assumes a tenderness absent within simple objectification. Amer continuously allows herself to explore the dichotomies of an uneasy world and confronts the language of hostility and finality with unsettled narratives of longing and love.
Amer’s work addresses first and foremost the ambiguous, transitory nature of the paradox that arises when searching for concrete definitions of east and west, feminine and masculine, as well as art and craft. Through her paintings, sculptures and public garden projects, Amer takes traditional notions of cultural identity, abstraction, and religious fundamentalism and turns them on their heads.While Amer’s works serve as commentary on the roles of women, they also offer a critique of painting itself, particularly in its largely masculine Abstract Expressionist mode. Her incorporation of thread into the parameters of the canvas legitimates a form of expression seen as particularly feminine.
Amer has shown her work all over the world, including the Istanbul, Johannesburg, Whitney, Gwangju, Sydney and Venice biennales; in major travelling shows such as The Short Century; Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora; and Africa Remix. She has exhibited at P.S. 1 in New York and SITE Santa Fe, and in 2008 the Brooklyn Museum hosted Love Has no End, a retrospective of twenty years of Amer’s work.
Amer trained to be an artist at Villa Arson, Nice, France. She currently lives and works in New York City.