Ghada Amer is an Egyptian-American artist living and working in New York. Her work is, in her own words, “a hybrid of the West and the East,” and it frequently addresses issues of gender and sexuality.
"The Words I Love the Most,” a sculpture cast in bronze using the lost wax method, is a giant, hollow sphere composed of Arabic words linked to the concept of love, such as “crazy”, “anxious”, “desire”. The words can only be read from within the sphere; to the outsider looking in, they are spelled backwards. Amer’s reversed writing alludes to an indirect discussion of desire in a society where direct mention of such subjects is taboo. It also exemplifies the way she makes art that appears abstract, yet is representational in content. An artist known for embroidering words and images on canvas before she began making sculpture more recently, Amer wanted to “make sculpture with lines…something like writing in space.”
"I have always used letters in my work,” the artist explains. “I often find that words provide a suitable outlet for ideological expressions when images are unable to, and vice versa. When I learned that the Arabic language has over 100 words to express love, I was fascinated — not only by the sheer quantity of those words, but also because it seems that the Arab world has forgotten to use them. It was this thought that inspired me to create a work that integrated these words of love, shedding light on a positive aspect of the Arabic culture.”
Amer lived in Egypt until the age of 11, when she moved to France for study. She received her Masters in painting from the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Nice. A trip back home in 1988 proved life-changing: she discovered that a vast number of Egyptian women had gone back to wearing the veil. A fashion magazine with sewing patterns struck her most acutely; the Western-style patterns had been overlaid with head coverings, veils and long sleeves. “Seeing this magazine changed my life,” she later recalled. “It made me make art.”
She took to portraying women by sewing their figures onto the canvas, with the threads dangling from the edge. Initially, they were shown performing a variety of household tasks. Amer later replicated pornographic images found in magazines. She also drew inspiration from Muslim texts on sexuality and desire, such as the 11th-century “Encyclopedia of Pleasure,” which categorizes the different types of sexual pleasure for men and women.
Sculpture is a more recent pursuit. Her “Blue Bra Girls” is inspired by video footage of the young woman demonstrator whose blue bra became visible when Egyptian police dragged her away for protesting. Amer’s work at Donum is part of a series of five oval-shaped bronze sculptures, each with a different patina. The artist has said that her aim in making these works was to explore the void: “My main thoughts here were rather formal. I wanted to make an empty sculpture and I wanted this sculpture to have an important shadow that would be part of the sculpture itself.”