My art crush is showing in Bust: Artist Ghada Amer Makes a Feminist Statement with Ceramics and Embroidery.

For over 20 years, contemporary artist, Ghada Amer, has challenged the oppression of female agency through sexually explicit paintings. With a global perspective, whether resisting oppression in the East’s Muslim-majority countries, where she was born, or in the West’s Christian-majority countries, where she has since made her home, Amer’s oeuvre has continually expanded into bodies of work committed to the message of freeing women — an idea that often takes the form of parted legs, open lips, loose threads, and dripping strands of unveiled hair.

We met in the atrium of Cheim & Read Gallery to discuss her exhibition. Most of the artwork was created around the 2016 U.S. presidential election. I was curious to see how the political context might have influenced Amer.

Portrait of the Revolutionary Woman (2017) greeted me in the entryway by way of an answer and inspired our conversation to interweave the tertiary threads of art technique, cultural critique, and pleasure.

Ghada Amer, Red, Black, and Gold Sculpture (2017); Women in White (2016) at Cheim & Read Gallery

Amer’s embroidered paintings and ceramic plates covered the walls, while the floor held a handful of podiums showcasing ceramic sculptures, Amer called her boxes.   

“Paintings are flat,” Amer said, “but on ceramic boxes you can see them in space. This for me is the pleasure. Making the painting into a sculpture.”

In front of Women in White (2016), she said, “I am always very critical about painting and about the history of art,” and gestured toward the painting embroidered with figures of women in poses appropriated from pornography. “Who writes the history?” Amer remarked. “What do you show?”

“We are fed this history of art with no women painters,” Amer continued. “We are fed that if abstract art is in the Muslim world, it is decoration, but if it belongs to the Western world, it is Abstraction. This is very problematic.”

 

Ghada Amer, Glimpse into a New Painting, 2018

We concluded our conversation before Glimpse into a New Painting (2018). From afar the colors swirl into abstract blocks of purple, indigo, black, and red, conjuring Cy Twombly. Yet to compare her work to the canon master felt similar to drawing connections to pornography. Both ends of the visual high-low spectrum prioritized the predominantly male gaze of approval.

Upon closer inspection, the figure of a woman—just beginning to disrobe—came into shape. She appeared intent on something yet undone. 

“All the time I am thinking,” Amer said, “how can I make a painting with my technique?”

 

Ghada Amer’s exhibition of paintings and ceramic sculptures is now showing at Cheim & Read Gallery through May 12, 2018. The complete exhibition catalog is viewable online.