Egyptian born, New York-based Ghada Amer is an artist who explores issues of femininity and the nature of identity through cultural and religious norms. Amer is a painter, sculptor, ceramicist, performance artist, garden artist, and mixed-media installation artist.
Amer was born in Cairo and moved to France when she was eleven years old. In 1989, she received her M.F.A. in Nice and studied art two years later in Paris. During her artistic studies in Nice, she was routinely turned away from painting classes as they were reserved exclusively for men. Because of this in the early 1990s, she used thread as the medium on her canvases rather than paint. Embroidery became her medium. She represented women by using thread and embroidery to represent women in the domestic environment as in her “Five Women at Work.”
Amer is best known for thickly embroidered abstract, erotic canvases that deal with social issues, female sexuality, and Islamic culture. While her intricate figurative embroidery features exotic images of the nude female body appropriated from pornographic magazines, her images are transformed into meditations on ecstasy. She contrasts the sensuality of her subject matter with the delicacy of her embroidery. “I liked the idea of representing women through the medium of thread because it is so identified with femininity.”
In 2010, Amer began a series of openwork sculptures that focused on Arabic words. Her first was “100 Words of Love,” a globular openwork form made from epoxy resin. A year later she added multi-colored elements to her sculpture. In 2012, her “The Words I Love the Most” was a bronze openwork sculpture, a large open form ball, with numerous meanings and different words in Arabic associated with the word ‘love’. She used the tradition of calligraphy and abstracted from it conceptual and formal qualities to show multiple words written in bronze which expressed love.
As an extension of her sculpture Amer made cardboard box works in 2014. She made drawings of women on big, cardboard boxes. These drawing were the same as those used in her embroidery pieces. She brought them to her studio to serve as a maquette for box sculptures made in ceramics. Later she decided to make the drawings on the cardboard boxes into their own art form. She cut up the boxes, reconfigured them, and painted the figures in ink, She continued making her box art but changed the images of these women, originally taken from magazines, to images of women she actually knew.
A garden artist, Amer integrated the same feminine universe used in her paintings into her gardens. Gardening was a woman’s activity just like embroidery, and that was the reason she decided to create gardens. Her third rendition of the “Women’s Qualities” garden was exhibited in Desert X 2021 in Coachella Valley, California. This installation was a social project and took the form of a word garden that etched onto planters adjectives usually associated with women. Composed in a circle in Sunnylands Gardens in Rancho Mirage were knee-high steel planters in the shape of letters that spelled out seven adjectives attributed to women: Beautiful, Loving, Nurturing, Resilient, Strong, Caring, and Determined. Each of the planters contained desert plants that were thought by the artist to be related to the meaning of the adjectives, so that – as an example – fragrant sage was as an attribute for the word ‘nurturing’.
In 1996, Amer was granted a residency at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. In 1999, she received the UNESCO Award. She was the first Arab artist to have a solo exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in 2000. In 2008, she was given a mid-career survey at the Brooklyn Museum of Art which contained sculpture, illustration, performance, and installation pieces that dealt with love, war, and, violence.
Amer has shown her work in many solo exhibitions in galleries and museums in New York, Berlin, London, Dallas, Seoul, Montreal, Johannesburg, Lisbon, Singapore, Milan, Jerusalem, Oslo, and other cities.
Her work is in more than two dozen public collections which include the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Guggenheim Museum in Abu Dhabi, Art Institute of Chicago, Brooklyn Museum, Istanbul Modern, Rhode Island School of Design, Seattle Art Museum, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Seattle Art Museum, Jerusalem’s Israel Museum, and others.