Arts & Humanities

Emma Amos retrospective on view at museum

Emma Amos (American, 1937-2020), “Targets,” 1992. Acrylic on canvas with African fabric borders on linen, 57 × 73 1/2 inches. Amos Family, courtesy RYAN LEE Gallery.

She embodied intersectionality in her art

“Emma Amos: Color Odyssey” will be on view at the Georgia Museum of Art Jan. 30-April 25. The retrospective solo exhibition shows her presence and growth as an artist, but also highlights the social change for which she fought.

The exhibition, organized by the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia, includes over 60 works Amos made over the course of her career, with the earliest from the late 1950s and the latest around 2015. It includes examples of painting, printmaking and textile-based mixed-media works, which she moved among and recombined regularly.

Amos’s journey to become a distinguished artist is nothing short of extraordinary. She was interested in art from a young age, even though segregation prevented her from being able fully to enjoy and experience the arts in museums and other public “separate-but-equal” spaces.

Emma Amos in her studio, 2011. (Photo by Becket Logan)

Amos was the only woman in Spiral, a group of Black artists who came together to examine their relationship with art and activism. They often disagreed on key topics, usually regarding if and how they should address social issues as a group and within their art. Some members, including Amos, did not like separating “Black” art from all other art, but others saw no purpose in continuing Spiral if not to perpetuate the growth of the Black art scene. To Amos, being Black was a political statement, but she wanted to address various issues regarding race, gender, class, and power within the art world and in society as a whole, not just the adversities of Black people. After her death, it was even revealed that she was also a member of the Guerilla Girls, a feminist art collective whose members wear masks to keep their identities anonymous. Amos actively fought against misogyny in the art world and evolved as a feminist artist sensitive to the nuances of race, age and class-oriented politics of her time through her teaching and writing but most of all her art.

Amos knew that like many other artists of color, she would not receive immediate recognition by the art community. During the 2010s, she received a surge of attention due to participation in major traveling exhibitions. In 2016, the Georgia Museum of Art honored her with its Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Award. Shawnya L. Harris, Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Curator of African American and African Diasporic Art, had gotten to know Amos and had already began to work on her as the subject of an expansive exhibition.

“Amos is one of several Black women artists whose contribution to art history deserves attention and critique,” Harris said. “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 died in May 2020, but her legacy lives on in the art she created and the contributions she made to a better society.

The museum is publishing a scholarly exhibition catalogue to accompany the show, with essays by Harris; Lisa Farrington of Howard University; artist LaToya Ruby Frazier; Laurel Garber, Park Family Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; artist Kay Walkingstick; and Phoebe Wolfskill, associate professor in the departments of American studies and African American and African Diaspora studies at Indiana University.

Emma Amos: Color Odyssey is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, the W. Newton Morris Charitable Foundation and the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art.

Related events during the course of the exhibition include:

The exhibition will next travel to the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute from June 19 to Sept. 12, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art from Oct. 9 to Jan. 2, 2022.