Ghada Amer on Embroidery and Default Beauty

“I want to show that women have been suppressed. Sewing helps me to articulate this problem.” Ghada Amer discusses embroidery, mainstream beauty and creating ceramics with her unfamiliar left hand.

Images of suggestively-posed white women looted from men’s porn magazines are the starting point for Ghada Amer’s embroidery paintings on canvas. Needle and thread, traditionally considered women’s craft, reclaims the two-dimensional from the male-dominated history of painting.

Amer and I first spoke in a Dubai hotel lobby two years ago, just before her show Earth. Love. Fire. opened at Leila Heller’s 15,000 square foot Alserkal Avenue showplace, marking a return to the Arab world after more than two decades. Our voices were drowned out by drab brown birds gossiping in the pink bougainvillea beyond our table. Although the Heller exhibition did hint at Amer’s erotic figures (and marked the first viewing of a new medium for the artist’s ceramics, which were the product of a residency at New York’s Greenwich House Pottery) there was a degree of self-censorship at play. There were topics demanding discussion that would not be printed by any regional publication. We agreed to meet again.

Amer and I reconnected in the US as she prepared for an untitled solo show at Cheim & Read in New York, set to open 5 April, presenting a new body of paintings and ceramic sculptures that feel like a shrewdly-honed continuation. Amer shares a cluttered studio with Reza Farkhondeh, who she met while still a student at the Villa Arson in Nice, France and with whom she often collaborates. They are in the midst of renovating a new space in Harlem. Our conversation begins where we left off, dissecting the unexpected sense of freedom Amer experiences whenever she experiments with ceramics.

DL: You are right-handed and yet often force yourself to sculpt with your left. Why? 

Ghada Amer: I began the left-handed sculptures when I started making ceramics in 2014. I was almost like a young child, suddenly realizing I have a left hand. I was noticing what the left hand could form. It was like surrealism, to see what it made on its own.

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Image Credit: Ghada Amer, Girl with Garden Carnation (2017). Courtesy of the artist and Cheim & Read, NY

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