Ghada Amer (b. 1963, Cairo, Egypt) views herself primarily as a painter, but she has worked in a variety of media, producing ceramics, site-specific garden works, photographs, prints, drawings, installations, and performance pieces.
Her work has always explored ideas related to women, femininity, and gender roles. ‘I believe that all women should like their bodies and use them as tools of seduction,’ Amer stated; and in her 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, their 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, 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.
She has also created a number of text-based works, most notably the installation piece Encyclopaedia of Pleasure, which comprises fifty-seven canvas boxes inscribed with embroidered texts serving as investigations of sexual and spiritual identity. While her 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.