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Ghada Amer: Paintings and Ceramics

Ghada Amer’s solo exhibition at Cheim & Read is a fresh amalgamation of powerfully bold imagery and intricate details that change and shift with every glance. Focused around the female figure in varying media and size, Amer’s voice and presence can clearly be heard.

The exhibition can be broken into two categories; mixed media painting and ceramics. Despite the stark differences between the two, the ceramics mirror the paintings, and vice versa. Regardless, all of the work evokes an unflappable aura of female strength, wisdom, and mystery.

Amer’s paintings vary in size, scale, color and detail, yet they are all connected by the bold images of posing, nude women. From a distance, the works have a hazy, dreamlike vibe. The subjects are ensconced in embroidery, some peeking out at the viewer with their bolder lines and starker contrasts, others abstracted and obscured behind a fog of embroidery. Close up, the intricacies of the embroidery, and the women behind it can be seen in much greater detail. The identity of these women is obscured, yet their vagueness also makes them familiar. Through the repetition of the female figure in slightly different angles and poses, the paintings are reminiscent of patterned fabric, with the addition of the artist’s hand through embroidery. Whether there are three large figures on a canvas or twenty-three smaller figures, each woman is painted with slight variation. In “A Summer in India,” a trio of women are staring off into the distance. They are hidden behind a bright waterfall of colored embroidery in orange, yellow, and red. In contrast with “White Girls,” the small scale female figures blend in with the background. The pure white is striking in comparison to the saturated colors and blacks of most of the other works.

While the figures in Amer’s paintings are hidden behind a curtain of embroidery, the women on the ceramics are portrayed front and center. They stare defiantly at the viewer and never look away. The ceramic pieces are a continuation of the embroidered canvases, reminiscent of fabric with their undulating lines and uneven movement. Like twisted, rejected dinnerware, the ceramics continue to play with scale and perspective. Some are hung on the wall, while others bring to mind Japanese shōji, and stand on their own. The women depicted on them are more bold and defined. The thick, heavy lines reflect their strong presence and gaze. While reminiscent of pinup girls and traditional nude portraits so deeply rooted in the art historical canon, Amer transforms them into something fresh and unexpected.

Ghada Amer’s exhibition expertly blends two media; the subjects effortlessly shift between the canvas and the ceramic. Her work is unusual, and requires distant and close examination. The paintings take on the quality of patterned fabric while the ceramics have lines with twists and turns not normally seen in that medium.

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