Ghada Amer

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Ghada Amer
Ghada Amer during a conference in Tours (France) in 2018
Born1963 (age 55–56)
EducationVilla Arson EPIAR, Institut des Hautes Etudes en Art Plastique
Known forPainting, Drawing, Sculpture, Installation, Performance
MovementHurufiyya movement

Ghada Amer (Arabic: غادة عامر‎, born 1963 in Cairo, Egypt) is a contemporary artist living and working in New York City. She emigrated from Egypt to France[1] at age 11 and was educated in Paris and Nice.[2] Much of her work deals with issues of gender and sexuality. Her most notable body of work involves highly layered embroidered paintings of women's bodies referencing pornographic imagery.[3][4] She is represented by the Cheim & Read Gallery.[5]

Early life and education[edit]

Amer was born in Cairo, Egypt and raised in an observant Muslim home. In 1974, at age eleven, she relocated with her family to France. She studied painting at the Villa Arson EPIAR in Nice, where she received her BA in 1986 and MFA in 1989,[4] and the Institut des Hautes Etudes en Art Plastique in Paris.[2] In 1995, she relocated to the United States.

As a student in the BFA and MFA programs at École pilot internationale d'art et de recherche, or Villa Arson, she was excluded from painting classes that were reserved for male students only. This prompted her to seek new ways to break into the male-dominated legacy of Western painting. Innovative and provocative, she used sewing and embroidery—skills learned from her mother and grandmother and typically associated as "women's work"—as a medium for celebrating and asserting women into the art world.


A multimedia artist, Amer is known for her abstract canvases that combine painting with needlework.[2] Her work frequently addresses issues of femininity, sexuality, postcolonial identities, and Islamic culture.[6] Her work is feminist,[4][7] subverting the traditionally masculine genre of painting, and its rejection of the norms of female sexuality.[7] Her oeuvre includes examples of painting, drawing, sculpture, performance, and installation.[8] Amer's multiple geographic relocations are reflected in her work. Her painting is influenced by the idea of shifting meanings and the appropriation of the languages of abstraction and expressionism. Her work adopts "politically incorrect" imagery for subversive purposes.

In 1991, Amer's Cinq Femmes Au Travail embroidery stitching techniques to show women performing tasks that had been advertised for women in magazines—childcare, house cleaning, and cooking. A year later, she began to depict pornographic subject matter, images of naked women in ecstasy or with other women to overthrow ideas of exploitation and objectification that have long been associated with these images. In 2000, she continued her work extracting images of women from magazines such as Hustler and Club. In works such as Coleurs Noires and The Slightly Smaller Colored Square Painting she traced and stitched serially masturbating or bound figures and partially covered the erotic images behind tangled threads and gel medium. The experiencing of witnessing the work is intended to be initially startling and then intimate. She thereby asserts and celebrates female sexual desire. She explained that "pornography is the starting point of the image, then it becomes something else." Her radical re-imagination of pornography, which comes from a tradition of being made by men for men, show[9] s erotic female desires and fantasies.[9]

Although best known for her embroidered canvases, Amer also works with printing, drawing, sculpture and installation. For example, in 2001, Ghad Amer created Encyclopedia of Pleasure, a sculptural installation that features fifty-four boxes, covered in canvas, and embroidered with texts about female beauty and sexuality. The installation shares a name with a twelfth-century Arabic text by Ali Ibn Nasr Al Katib,[4] a literary and medical manual that catalogues sexual pleasure for both men and women that was produced during a progressive period of Islamic culture but is forbidden today. To make the work, Amer selected passages of the text that talk about female sexuality and beauty. She then embroidered a gold thread on fifty-four stacked canvas-covered boxes.[9]

She has created public works such as Love Park (1999) in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Today 70% of the Poor in the World are Women (2001) in a disadvantaged neighborhood in Barcelona.[9]

Following the events of September 11, 2001, Amer's work began to explore the charged topic of Islamic terrorism. Language of Terror (2005) consisted of a bright pink wallpaper adorned with gold crowns and a lattice pattern into which she inscribed numerous definitions of the word terrorism. In the Arabic language, there is no definition of terrorism. She made plates, cups, napkins, and tray liners with the phrase "Terrorism is not indexed in Arabic dictionaries." La Salon Courbé (2007) dealt with similar controversial topics. She installed an elaborately decorated drawing room typically found in elegant homes across Egypt. However, the domestic scene was not as inviting as it seemed. The pattern of the carpet was inscribed with the only Arabic definition of the word terrorism that Amer could find.[9]

Over her career spanning more than twenty years, Amer's work as addressed the subject of women and stereotypes associated with women, as well as the American-Muslim identity. Despite the differences between her Islamic upbringing and Western models of behavior, Amer's work addresses universal problems, such as the oppression of women, which are prevalent in many cultures. The submission of women to the tyranny of domestic life, the celebration of female sexuality and pleasure, the incomprehensibility of love, the foolishness of war and violence, and an overall quest for formal beauty, constitute the territory that she explores and expresses in her art.[10]

Notable exhibitions[edit]

Amer's work has been presented in numerous solo and group exhibitions at such venues as Cheim & Read, New York; Deitch Projects, New York; the 2000 Whitney Biennial, New York; P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York; the 2000 Gwangju Biennale, South Korea; SITE Santa Fe, New Mexico; the 1999 Venice Biennale; the 1997 Johannesburg Biennale; Gagosian Gallery, London; and Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills.[5] She is the first Arab artist to have a one-person exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.[11] A detail of her work, Knotty but Nice, was used on the cover of the September 2006 issue of ARTnews magazine, as part of a focus on erotic art.[12]

In 2003, Amer's work was included in Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora at The Museum for African Art in Queens.[13] In early 2008, a retrospective of her work was exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum of Art,[14] at the museum's Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. In the same year, she was featured in Chiara Clemente's documentary "Our City Dreams". In 2014 and 2015, her work was included in the traveling exhibition "The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists" curated by Simon Njami.[15]


Amer was awarded the UNESCO prize at the 1999 Venice Biennial.[11]

Public collections[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About". Ghada Amer. [artist's website]. Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  2. ^ a b c Okeke-Agulu, Chika. "Amer, Ghada". Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  3. ^ "Ghada Amer: Defusing the power of erotic images". New York Times Arts Review. 12 March 2007. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d Posner, Helaine (2013). "Bad Girls: Ghada Amer". In Heartney, Eleanor. The Reckoning: Women Artists of the New Millennium. New York: Prestel. pp. 24–29. ISBN 978-3-7913-4759-2.
  5. ^ a b "Ghada Amer". Cheim & Read. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  6. ^ Auricchio, Laura (Winter 2001). "Works in Translation: Ghada Amer's Hybrid Pleasures". Art Journal. ISSN 0004-3249.
  7. ^ a b Oguibe, Olu (1 Feb 2014). "Love and Desire: The Art of Ghada Amer". Third Text: 63–74.
  8. ^ Enright, Robert; Walsh, Meeka (1 Feb 2014). "The Thread of Painting". Border Crossings: 24–37.
  9. ^ a b c d e Heartney, Eleanor. Reckoning: Women Artists of the New Millennium. Prestel. pp. 24–29.
  10. ^ Ozler, Levent (1 January 2008). "Ghada Amer: Love Has No End". Dexigner. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  11. ^ a b Winegar, Jessica (2004). Mattar, Philip, ed. Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. 1 (2nd ed.). New York: Macmillan Reference USA. p. 176. ISBN 978-0028657691.
  12. ^ "September 2006". Art News. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  13. ^ Cotter, Holland (21 November 2003). "ART REVIEW; An African Diaspora Show Asks: What Is Africanness? What Is Diaspora?". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  14. ^ Rosenberg, Karen (June 20, 2008). "Art Review: Veiled or Naked: Scrutinizing Women's Roles". New York Times. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  15. ^ "THE DIVINE COMEDY: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists". Exhibitions. Savannah College of Art and Design. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  16. ^ a b c d e f "Ghada Amer: Biography". Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Ghada Amer Website Biography. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  18. ^ "LES FLÂNEUSES, Ghada Amer ^ Minneapolis Institute of Art". Retrieved 2018-03-08.

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