Emma Amos died this year. She was 83 years old (born 1937). Most of her work illuminated the racism and sexism so prevalent in the United States. Amos was excluded from the “mainstream” art world…nowadays it is just the art business…because she was an African-American. She was also left aside by the black artists because she was a woman.
Many of her paintings were of women falling from the sky and flying. Sometimes she would place African textiles together with the paint or whichever medium she was using to create her artwork. Her work screams out that women are sex objects and black people are treated as second class citizens in their own society.
Although Emma Amos had been exhibiting for more than fifty years, it was only recently that she began to get some real recognition. She exhibited in the Brooklyn Museum and in the Tate Modern in London.
In her own words, taken from Emma Amos artist statement:
“Even though Atlanta and most cities during my youth were segregated, the arts, schools, and smart creative people were beacons of light. The city was a good place for black people with big dreams, and it continues to be a major site for black colleges, businesses, artists, and political figures. It is important to me to point out that both of my college-educated parents had fathers who were born slaves. This was a good reason for my brother, Larry, and me to believe that we had to continue to excel, as our family had done under much more difficult circumstances.
I see Emma as a dedicated artist who used her art as a means to communicate the struggle of those who are victims of different…but unacceptable…forms of discrimination. She understood that art is a weapon. She also felt compelled to react to the world around her. As an artist she needed to express her distaste and her concern. “The work reflects my investigations into the otherness often seen by white male artists, along with the notion of desire, the dark body versus the white body, racism, and my wish to provoke more thoughtful ways of thinking and seeing…”
Amos also lived within the reality she was born in. Trying to change the world is something that one does a little bit at a time. That is the way the earth itself evolves. Revolution leads to destruction, evolution leads to progress. She said, “I also want people to learn to feel my distaste for the notion that there is ‘art’ and ‘black art.’ Yes, race, sex, class, and power privileges exist in the world of art.“
Her Artist Statement also says: “My career (1980–2008) as a Professor II and former Chair of Visual Arts at the Mason Gross School of the Arts has backed a studio practice that includes painting, drawing, making prints and photographic images, weaving, and sewing, along with lecturing, writing, reading, and looking at art. I am very grateful for that. I am pleased when my work initiates memory, individual observations and thought.“
In my opinion Emma Amos, as an artist, did more to shine a light on racism and sexism in the US than any violent demonstration or destructive protest or riot. She understood clearly that there was a problem. She saw the problem as being pernicious and because it is true, that racism and sexism is a pernicious illness in the US, she fought it with the only weapon that works. She tried to make them see it and then tried to educate them. People cannot be changed, but they can be taught, they can be shown the error of their ways, like she said, with her work that “initiates memory, individual observations and thought.”
Without a doubt Emma Amos was a child of her times and greatly influenced by the Civil Rights movements as well as the feminist movements that existed throughout the fifties and sixties. Her work advocated for the empowerment of women, reflected the race issue in the US and her role as a black female artist.
Emma Amos was born in Atlanta, Georgia, USA on March 16, 1937 and died on March 20, 2020. Rest in Peace
Let’s keep the conversation going. If you liked this post, if you thought Emma Amos work interesting, please let me know, comment, speak, discuss. Art has to come back to the world of the artists and not the world of big business. Let us keep the discussion…pleasant and respectful…alive and if you did like the article, please hit that like button and I would also appreciate it if you would follow and re-blog because re-blogging extends the conversation further…
Here is a small video I made with images of some of Emma’s works.