‘Emma Amos: Color Odyssey’ Examines Class, Gender And Race In The Art World And Society

The piece is called “Equals” created in 1992. Acrylic on linen canvas with African fabric borders.

Emma Amos

A new exhibition of nearly 60 works by Emma Amos is on view at the Georgia Museum of Art. She is best known for her colorful large-scale canvases that incorporate African fabrics and semi-autobiographical content. Amos’ pieces examine the intersection of race, class, gender and privilege in both the art world and society.

“City Lights” host Lois Reitzes spoke via Zoom with Shawnya L. Harris, the curator of African American and African Diasporic Art for the Georgia Museum of Art, about Amos’ works.

“I would describe her work as pretty eclectic. Not only was she a painter and printmaker, she was also a weaver, and you’ll see that in a majority of the works we have on display,” Harris said. “Her use of things that were related to her early profession as a weaver and as a textile designer interplay a lot with much of her work throughout her career.”

Amos once told art historian Lucy Lippard, “Every time I think about color, it’s a political statement.”

She believed colors on the palette were inseparable from politics.

“She believed that as a Black artist, everything was about color. She wanted people to look at the colors in her paintings, but not the color of her skin. But she found it very difficult to be divorced from color as a social construct and not just a construct artistically,” said Harris.

In Amos’ self-portraits, she depicts herself in different shades–from dark to very light. She also does this with hair textures.

“She’s kind of making a comment on the fact that there’s so much diversity within this notion of ‘blackness,’” Harris said.

Amos passed away in May at the age of 83 due to Alzheimer’s. The exhibition was already scheduled to be on display at the Georgia Museum of Art prior to her death.

“It’s kind of ironic that this exhibition is happening during a pandemic because Amos always dealt with this principle of uncertainty in many of her works, and that’s what we’re all facing now. Notions of uncertainty and survival and resilience,” said Harris.

Emma Amos: Color Odyssey is currently on display through April 25.