The Women I Know Part II
Ghada Amer is one of many Cassandras—generations of women, queer, and BIPOC artists were sidetracked for intimidating the status quo or lacking the sterility that white heteronormativity admires. Long deemed untranslatable or infeasible, the knowledge these artists possess against indifference has, in reality, been their weapon, the source of their non-negotiable mythic power.
Amer’s current exhibition at Marianne Boesky Gallery exhibition, “The Women I Know Part II,” is filled with faces, all washed in threads dripping from canvases like spring rain that pours in color. This voluminousness of hue and material fills each image (all 2021) with a kinetic vibrancy. Born in Egypt and raised in France, Amer remains defiant against contemporary art’s fixations on aesthetic or subject matter. Her portraits of women, whether cast from porn or her own social circle, had to occupy their own universe from early on. Amer’s embroidered portraits of women date as far back as the early 1990s, when needlework and painting were considered strictly heterogenous. She punctures the canvas with colorful threads to illustrate women unburdened by the male gaze, institutional trends, or the market.
Amer’s portraits have always meandered around anonymity and kinship, equalizing the unsung and the familiar on the same canvas. Here, the women are her friends, but also someone’s girlfriend, mother, sister, lover, and confidant. Text blends into each face, becoming a part of their skin as well as background. Idealistic expressions—such as “We revolt simply because for many reasons we can no longer breathe,” or “Do not let anyone tell you, you are weak because you are a woman”—are woven into facial expressions, which Amer captures with thread akin to a painter’s brushstrokes.
Note the contrast between the density of the threaded portraits and the airiness of bronze line busts. Pulled from porn, the faces are hollow yet defined, bursting with optic potentials thanks to their flirtation with light and space. They cast shadows that smear onto the wall like paint, remaining ethereal, subtle in their mark-making but sturdy in their presence. Art history does not lack manmade female faces of ecstasy, from those of Michelangelo to Koons. Amer’s faces claim what is theirs, occupying a space through rigidness of bronze and humbleness of their mass. The Lady in Red (2021) has thick voluminous hair, rendered with lines of bent bronze that expand to her eyebrows, eyes, nose, and lips. Barbara in Black (2021) and Linda in Blue (2021) sit on wooden pedestals; though bronze, they seem to have been carved into the air. Their threaded comrades are visible through their features. Their promise is an embodiment of femininity, more so than specific women. The busts are malleable, changing form as one walks around them while delivering ever-changing vistas of form, light, air. At certain angles, they’re no longer faces but rather abstract mysteries. —Osman Can Yerebekan
Ghada Amer, The Lady in Red, 2021. Painted bronze, 30 x 26 1/2 x 3 inches. Courtesy of Boesky Gallery.