I believe that all women should like their bodies and use them as tools of seduction
– Ghada Amer
Goodman Gallery presents My Body, My Choice – Ghada Amer’s first solo show in London in twenty years. The exhibition brings together a new body of work, including Amer’s signature thread and canvas paintings as well as sculptures and a garden installation, never before realised in the UK.
Recognising that women are taught to model behaviours and traits shaped by others, and that art history and the history of painting in particular are shaped largely by expressions of masculinity, Amer’s work actively subverts these frameworks through aesthetics and content. Her practice explores the complicated nature of identity as it is developed through cultural and religious norms as well as personal longings and understandings of the self.
Amer’s work addresses 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, the artist takes traditional notions of cultural identity, abstraction, and religious fundamentalism and turns them on their heads.
In Amer’s erotic embroideries, the artist rejects oppressive laws set in place to govern women’s attitudes toward their bodies. At the same time, her work repudiates first-wave Western feminist theory that the body must be denied in order to prevent victimisation. By depicting explicit sexual acts with the delicacy of needle and thread, Amer’s figures assume a tenderness that simple objectification ignores.
The citations that are carefully embroidered on Amer’s paintings do not speak directly about the status of women in a particular society nor do they address what is going on in the US or in the Middle East. Rather, her paintings remind the viewer that women must be vigilant over the rights they have acquired and never take their liberation for granted:
“In Western societies, there is an assumption, especially among the younger generations, that the battle of the sexes has been won, that women have been liberated, and that their rights are secure. And yet, we are witnessing today a sharp regression of women’s rights and a stark rise of violence against women. However, in countries where one assumes women’s rights to be limited or absent, such as in Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan, or Mexico, women of the younger generation know they have a lot to gain from fighting for those very same rights that are eroding in the West. So they are not letting down their guard and they are continuing to fight fiercely.”
The embroidered phrases which are repeated on the canvases relate to diverse teachings on women’s rights that have been extracted from publications written by female and male authors of varying backgrounds. These publications range from writing by Egyptian feminist Nawal El Saadawi to American actress Angelina Jolie to former Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein. For the artist, they are “mantras, incantations that the viewer will hopefully end up remembering” as a prompt to “continuously mobilize, fight, and never let our arduously acquired rights fade away and vanish.”
The flat sculptures in the exhibition play with shadow and perspective and bear striking parallels to her well-known drip paintings. They were cast in South Africa’s well known Workhorse Bronze Foundry and have been realised as ‘drawings in space’ – a technique that the artist learnt during a residency in 2017 at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Wisconsin. The techniques involve moulding with clay before the works are cast in bronze. For Amer, this was an essential period of training that allowed her to master the process of moulding large sculptures: “I wanted to learn how to paint with clay so that I could portray women in my sculptures as expressively as I did in my painting.”
Since 1997, Amer has widened her artistic practice by creating gardens in outdoor, public spaces. She has conceived, drawn, and built gardens in a range of locations across several continents, most recently in France, the USA (California, New York City, Colorado), Mexico, and Morocco. However, this exhibition marks the first time that the artist has shown a garden work in the UK. Amer’s approach innovates the very genre of artistic gardens, creating a hybrid model where art, public space, and spectators merge and are transformed through a dynamic encounter.
Ghada Amer (b.1963, Cairo, Egypt) grew up in Nice, France and completed her undergraduate degrees and MFA at Villa Arson École Nationale Supérieure. Amer’s practice spans painting, sculpture, ceramics, works on paper, as well as garden and mixed-media installations. Amer’s work is in public collections around the world, including The Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha; the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL; the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, NY; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Guggenheim Museum, Abu Dhabi; the Israel Museum, Jerusalem and the Samsung Museum, Seoul. Amer has exhibited in prestigious group shows and biennials such as the Johannesburg Biennale, 1997; Whitney Biennial, 2000; the Venice Biennales of 1999, 2005 and 2007 and Desert X, 2021 in Palm Springs where she exhibited the most recent of her garden installations. In 2008 she presented a midcareer retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York. Multiple institutions across Marseille, France are currently co-organising a retrospective for 2022 that will travel from Mucem and on to the United States and Asia.
Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery