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Trailblazing African American Artist Works: “Emma Amos: Color Odyssey” is on Exhibit

By Tyronda James
tyrondajames@minorityreporter.net

Portrait of Emma Amos. Photo by Becket Logan via wikiart.org

Painter, printmaker and weaver Emma Amos was best known for her “bold and colorful mixed-media paintings that create visual tapestries in which she examines the intersection of race, class, gender and privilege in both the art world and society at large.” 

Amos was born March 16, 1937 in Atlanta, Georgia, during the Jim Crow era. She died of natural causes associated with Alzheimer’s disease on May 20, 2020 in Bedford, New Hampshire.

“22 and Cheetah”

Through her work, Amos highlighted the Black community’s aspirations and excellence. She was a trailblazing artist who challenged race, gender and the privilege of society. More than 60 of her artworks from the beginnings of her career in 1958 to 2015 are being showcased for all to see.

The exhibition, “Emma Amos: Color Odyssey,” is currently on view June 19 through September 12 at the Museum of Art, Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, before it travels to the Philadelphia Museum of Art from October 9 to January 2, 2022.

It is a retrospective of Amos’s six-decade career. Amos was an activist throughout her career and the exhibit demonstrates her presence and growth as an artist and highlights the social change for which Amos fought so vigorously.

The book “Emma Amos: Color Odyssey” accompanies the exhibition and can be purchased here.

Amos is best known for her large-scale paintings where she blends African fabrics. In her artistry, she also embraced several types of materials, innovative printmaking techniques and photo-transfer, weaving and collage. 

“Her compositions reveal personal narratives about art, historical figures and the representation of people of color, particularly women. Amos combined her interests in painting, printmaking, weaving, and collage into vibrant stories that present a layered understanding of what it meant to be a woman and artist of color during the era of Civil Rights and the feminist movements of the past 50 years,” according to a MWPAI news release.

The showcase is organized by curators Shawnya L. Harris, Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Curator of African American and African Diasporic Art, the Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia. 

“Amos is one of several Black women artists whose contribution to art history deserves attention and critique,” Harris said, remarking on the exhibition.

“Godzilla”

“Putting together several decades worth of her work provides a special opportunity to learn more about her career, techniques, and ideas, inviting re-evaluation and new audiences in relation to her artistic progression.” 

Amos was wife, mother, artist and a professor of art and a powerful voice for social change. 

She was also the youngest, and only female member of Spiral, a collective of African-American artists who would often meet to discuss the role of African-American artists in politics and the civil rights movement. The collective was initially formed by artists Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis and Hale Woodruff.

Amos, later in her life revealed she was a “Guerrilla Girl,” an anonymous group of feminist, female artists devoted to fighting sexism and racism within the art world. In a 2011 interview, she said, “It was tough…But I did it, you know. I just felt like it was necessary.”

Amos did not like separating “Black” art from all other art; being Black was a political statement, but she wanted to address various issues including race, gender, class, and power within the art world and in society as a whole. 

There will be a companion exhibition, “Call & Response: Collecting African American Art,” on view exploring the Munson-Williams Museum of Art’s efforts to diversify its 30 year collection.

The companion exhibition will run June 19 through November 28 and includes works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Romare Bearden, Robert Blackburn, Lorna Simpson, Dread Scott and more.

Amos’s artistic vision was wide and rich. For her subject matter, she drew upon personal stories, popular culture, and a deep understanding of art and history.

“I like that people can read their own meanings into my paintings and that those readings may be quite different from mine. I am interested in who gets acclaim for showing what, and in what being called a “master” often means. 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.”

“Sandy and Her Husband” Hi-Res.

For her subject matter, she drew upon personal stories, popular culture, and a deep understanding of art and history.

An Emmaamos.com artist statement reads:

“I like that people can read their own meanings into my paintings and that those readings may be quite different from mine. I am interested in who gets acclaim for showing what, and in what being called a “master” often means. 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.”

“Equal Press”

Amos’s artistic vision was enormous and rich. Her art is included in numerous major museum collections.

The Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute is located at 310 Genesee Street, Utica, NY. 13502. Visit mwpai.org for further exhibition information.

For additional Emma Amos info, visit emmaamos.com/wordpress.