Saturdays Artists Series: Emma Amos

DAILY DOSE OF HISTORY: Emma Amos - Painter | How We Buy Black

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.

Chloe Wyma on Emma Amos - Artforum International
(Emma Amos, All I Know of Wonder, 2008, oil on linen, African fabric, 70 1/2 x 55 1/2″. © Emma Amos/VAGA, New York)

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.

Emma Amos in her studio with Valued, 2006. Photo by Becket Logan, courtesy Ryan Lee.
(Amos in her studio with Valued, 2006. Photo by Becket Logan, courtesy Ryan Lee)

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.”

(Emma Amos, Malcolm X Morley, Matisse and Me., 1993, Acrylic on linen with African fabric borders and photo transfer, Private collection, Delaware, Courtesy of RYAN LEE Gallery and Art Finance Partners, New York)

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.

The artist Emma Amos with her 2006 work “Head First.” Her paintings often depicted women flying or falling.
(Emma Amos with her work “Head First” 2006)

Emma Amos was born in Atlanta, Georgia, USA on March 16, 1937 and died on March 20, 2020. Rest in Peace

Emma Amos – RYAN LEE Gallery
(“Work Suit”)

So…

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.

(Please don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel. Thanks!)

THANKS!

9 comments

  1. Brad Osborne · 13 Days Ago

    I had never heard of or seen the works of this artist. And that is just plain sad, as her works are beautiful, powerful, and compelling. She captures the struggle of racism and sexism in unforgettable style and fashion. The symbolism, both overt and covert, shouts out to a flawed society asking for change. I can only hope, as it is for many artists, that her passing will push her work into the larger spotlight it deserves. This is exactly why I love this series so much, Francisco. My life has been enriched by what you have so wonderfully shared with your readers. Well written, my friend! Hope you have a fabulous weekend!

    • Francisco Bravo Cabrera · 13 Days Ago

      Hello Brad, and thank you so much! I am glad you liked it and I hope you do get to know Emma Amos much better. Her work is important in many ways, not only as wonderful works of art but as a social statement, as a weapon to fight the injustices and unacceptable things going on in her society. Thanks again and you too, have a great weekend! All the best!

  2. Francine Hamelin · 13 Days Ago

    Thank you for the discovery…

    • Francisco Bravo Cabrera · 13 Days Ago

      Thank you Francine and I am glad you discovered who is really an amazing artist and a real fighter against the injustices of her time in her country. All the best,
      Francisco

  3. janetsm · 12 Days Ago

    You’ve made me aware of another artist, Francisco. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know about her or her work. What a difficult time for her to come along. She had to fight battles against racism and sexism more so than someone born today. It’s amazing that her grandfathers were slaves! Thanks for sharing Emma Amos and some of the work with us today. I always learn something from your blog posts.

    • Francisco Bravo Cabrera · 12 Days Ago

      Thank you Janet, I always really appreciate your support and your encouragement and I am so glad for the opportunity to present to you a brilliant artist who confronted racism and sexism and fought it in a civilised manner.

      • janetsm · 12 Days Ago

        My pleasure, Francisco.

  4. Anna Waldherr · 11 Days Ago

    I agree that art has power to produce change. It is certainly preferable to violence.

    • Francisco Bravo Cabrera · 11 Days Ago

      Yes, change has to be the result of wisdom of thoughts and of a wider consensus than just the will of a raucous mob!

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